My 6/23/08 Missoulian column
The technology headlines this month might as well read “Windows XP is dead. Long live Windows XP!” While Microsoft seems happy to start pulling the plug on its flagship operating system, it’s easy to find people in Windows support forums and on the street who say they’ll stick with XP and not change to Vista, the company’s newest OS, anytime soon because of glitches and requirements for newer, faster hardware.
Microsoft seems to have listened, and the result is that XP is scheduled be slowly retired over the next few years. But some of these cutoff details may change, as Microsoft already has taken a few steps back from several different deadlines as a result of consumer response that borders on demands.
The company is requiring computer manufacturers to stop installing XP on brand-new PCs on June 30, but there are loopholes. Some large manufacturers will continue to offer “downgrade” options on new PCs that ship with Vista – until summer 2009 – so a consumer can go “back” to XP. And, for a few more years, you’ll be able to buy XP on small laptops that don’t have the horsepower to run Vista. And small computer shops will be able to sell and install XP if they have copies on hand after the June 30 cutoff. If you want your own CD copy of XP before the deadline, it’s possible to find it at discount retailers online or in big-box stores.
Windows XP was first released in October 2001, and currently has as many as 400 million users. That’s a huge base, about a 90 percent market share of operating systems. XP in both of its versions – Home and Pro – is still hugely popular, and technicians must have millions of hours of experience with the system, but Microsoft is starting the sundowning process because of what it says is the needed change to the more reliable and secure Vista.
I’ve always had good luck running XP, as long as I kept up with updates, was careful what programs I installed and was religious with anti-virus and anti-trojan programs. When XP wasn’t happy, I wasn’t afraid to format the hard drive and do a clean install to start over.
If XP is slow, “blue screens” or reboots without warning and a good scrubbing with anti-virus and anti-trojan software doesn’t help, consider a clean install. You can get rid of all the junk that’s accumulated over the years and any malware that might be hiding on your hard drive. But look forward to at least several hours of work to cleanly install XP and its updates, and to reinstall any other software.
Windows XP has gone through hundreds of minor updates and three major ones, called Service Packs, which contain all previous fixes. The last of these to be released is Service Pack 3, first offered in May.
To save time on a clean install, you should start with a Windows XP Service Pack 2 CD, so all the updates and security fixes don’t take hours to install, and then install Service Pack 3 right away. The key to a safe and clean install is to not connect to the Internet until necessary. If you download a copy of SP3 before you do a clean install and put it on a CD or a flash drive, then you can install it right after Windows and minimize the number of updates left to do. Once SP3 is installed and your Internet connection is configured, run Windows Update, then install your antivirus and malware programs and update them.
Rather than try to run through a clean install here, do yourself a favor and get a book on Windows XP that covers installation and backup (be sure it covers your version, Home or Pro). Read through the instructions before you start, and be sure your boot CD really boots before you format your hard drive.
Also, make backup copies of your personal files, or, better yet, clone your hard drive to an external drive before you start a reinstall. After Windows is installed, reinstall your programs and update them. Then, set up a limited administrative account to run as a day-to-day user so you are less vulnerable to malware that needs administrative privileges to run.
That’s a lot of work, but with a clean install of XP and its updates you can give your PC new life with the familiar operating system and put off the change to Vista.
Some useful sites:
Microsoft Support: “How to install or upgrade to Windows XP”.
Microsoft Support: “Steps to take before you install Windows XP Service Pack 3”
For the more technically inclined, it’s possible to “slipstream” SP3 onto a Windows CD n integrate it into Windows on the install CD n and not have to install it separately. See Lifehacker.com’s “Slipstream Service Pack 3 into Your Windows XP Installation CD”.