The sane person's guide to the Windows XP apocalypse

Put down the hand grenade, and step away from the keyboard -- the end of Windows XP doesn't have to be a disaster

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Linux lurks in the wings

If none of these Microsoftie tools can help, it's time to cuddle up with the penguin. Linux on the desktop has evolved greatly over the years, personified by Ubuntu. Sure, Canonical just shuttered its ill-conceived attempt to compete with iTunes and/or Dropbox via Ubuntu One, but the distro is great and isn't going anywhere.

Granted, it's not as slick as either Windows or OS X, but it's not drab by any means, and it has two characteristics that should be highly attractive to folks who can't afford an XP software/hardware refresh: First, it's free, and second, it runs fabulously on old hardware. I know this because the machine in my workshop is a plastic- and sawdust-covered Gateway laptop from 2006. It's running Ubuntu 12.x, and performance is not a problem. There's even a lightweight version, Lubuntu, which will run on really old hardware.

Upgrading to Ubuntu is basically a matter of backing up all your data, finding Linux analogs for all your applications, downloading the ISO, and doing clean installs followed by restores. Yes, that's for small businesses. If you're trying to do this for an enterprise, go straight to the hospital and get treatment for your throbbing head wound.

No, I'm not reversing my stance on Linux on the desktop as a long-standing pipe dream. The fantasy remains in that second step -- namely, finding Linux analogs. For the most part, you won't, which is why you don't see too many Ubuntu machines on business desks. Even if you find some, Linux-based analogs tend to be not as slick or as feature-rich as their Windows/Mac counterparts, and while they claim compatibility, that's usually at a basic level. LibreOffice may support DOCX, for example, but try opening up a 50-page glitz document -- the formatting will look like a Rorschach test.  

With Linux, there are two ways to try and save your XP dino-app from extinction. First, there's virtualizing XP using a Linux standard like KVM. Even if it didn't work using Microsoft's virtualization technology, there's a chance it might run this way. Or there's CrossOver, though it's not a perfect solution because it's based on converted apps, not on OS-level virtualization. Codeweavers maintains a list on its site of applications supported this way, but it also works with companies on custom porting either from the software manufacturer's side or from the customer's side. It's something of a last resort, but it's out there, so don't dismiss it.

All is not lost (yet)

That's all the advice I have for people with limited resources who think they're stuck to XP by grimy software tentacles that won't let go. Being bound to XP isn't necessarily the calamity Microsoft wants you to think it is. Your PCs won't spontaneously combust and you won't come home to find your children zombified and gnawing on your dog's dead skull. Those machines are just moving from "supported" to "at risk."

Certainly, it brings problems, including application compatibility and regulatory compliance, but none of those will shoot you in the face Wednesday morning. Consider turning on the advanced features of your firewall, email filtering, and locking down Web surfing with a white list. You can probably subsist on XP just fine for a while from a security perspective. But if you fool yourself into thinking stopgap measures like these mean you never have to get off and never think about it again -- well, you deserve what happens to you.

* (HALO: High altitude, low input, achieved by your brother pushing you down the stairs after grabbing your Underoos. If successful, your waistband is on the second floor while you're on the first. The move was banned by the United Nations in 1952, which wasn't soon enough to save me.)

This article, "The sane person's guide to the Windows XP apocalypse," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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