In my time here at LOMAP, I have seen some old computers. This one time, someone opened a secret closet (I can’t remember whether there was also a secret knock involved, or not) to reveal a computer that was older than me, which housed all of the law firm’s information, from time in memoriam. I wanna say it was a Wang; but, now that I think about it, it may have been Wang’s grandfather’s. Now, while not as dramatic as all that, I have run into a number of attorneys who are still using Windows XP. This is understandable; if you were (with good reason) wary of Windows Vista, and never got on with Windows 7, Windows 8 likely snuck up on you. But, if you haven’t wanted to move from XP until now, the below may convince you to get on that. We’re happy to publish this guest post from Jeffrey Clark, which covers the sunsetting of Windows XP extended support, and some options for dealing with that particular crisis, including a number of open source tools. Jeffrey is the founder of the Law Offices of Jeffrey J. Clark, based in Georgetown, Massachusetts. Jeffrey is licensed to practice in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He is a graduate of Suffolk University and Suffolk University Law School, and is active in the Massachusetts Bar Association. Jeffrey may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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Are you still running Microsoft Windows XP on your office computers? According to the latest estimates, Windows XP is still running on about 40% of all computers worldwide, despite the fact that Microsoft’s extended support will be ending in a little under a year, on April 8, 2014. Microsoft had ended mainstream support for XP on April 14, 2009. This means that Microsoft will no longer issue patches and security updates for Windows XP, and XP systems will become more vulnerable to security breaches, malware and viruses. So, if you are one of those XP users, you need to start thinking about your options.
What are those options? Well, one option is to purchase new computers for your office that feature the Windows 7 or Windows 8 platform; in the alternative, you could switch to an Apple device and its OS, such as their most recent release: Mountain Lion — but, for purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that you stick with Windows. Now, if you walk into a major retailer like Best Buy, and want to purchase a new Windows PC, the shelves will be stocked with devices running Windows 8, with a few leftover Windows 7 systems. Windows 8 has a redesigned user interface that is tile-based, similar to their smartphone interface; this is related to Microsoft’s recent focus on touch screen-enabled devices such as tablets, including its new Surface Pro. Reviews of Windows 8 on traditional desktop and laptop computers that do not feature touch screens have run the gamut from positive to negative, and include: the okay, the bad, the acknowledgment of a significant learning curve and the ugly. If Windows 8 is not for you, you can still custom order new PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed from some manufacturer’s websites, or pick the remaining Windows 7 PCs from big box retailer shelves; however, the hardware choices for machines with Windows 7 pre-installed are starting to thin out.
Another option would be to upgrade your existing computers to either Windows 7 or Windows 8. Before you can access that option, though, you’ll first need to determine whether your computer’s hardware will run Windows 7 or Windows 8 and whether your peripherals are supported by Windows 7 or Windows 8. Additionally, in the case of Windows 7, you will likely need to order a Windows 7 upgrade disc from an online retailer, as most retail stores no longer have copies of that disc on store shelves. Keep in mind, however, that if your PCs were purchased with Windows XP pre-installed, there is a good chance those devices do not have the minimum hardware requirements for running either Windows 7 or Windows 8. Windows XP’s minimum system requirements are: a Pentium 233 MHz processor; 64 MB RAM; and, 1.5 GB of available hard drive space. Windows 7’s minimum system requirements are: a 1 GHz (or faster) processor; and, 1 GB RAM (for the 32 bit version of Windows 7) or 2 GB RAM (for the 64 bit version of Windows 7). Windows 7 systems also require video cards that support DirectX 9, for which you’ll also need 16 GB of hard drive space (for the 32 bit version of Windows 7), or 20 GB of hard drive space (for the 64 bit version of Windows 7). The minimum system requirements for Windows 8 are the same; however, there are the additional requirements that the computer’s processor supports PAE, NX and SSE2. In short, it takes more modern hardware to run Windows 7 and Windows 8 than it does to run Windows XP. To determine whether your existing hardware would support either Windows 7 or Windows 8, you should go to Microsoft’s website and download the appropriate system upgrade adviser, which will test your computer, connected peripherals and software to determine compatibility.
Purchasing a new Windows PC, or upgrading to Windows 7 or Windows 8, do not represent your only options when it comes to moving into a new operating system. Even if you don’t want to jump to Apple, Linux distributions and open source applications can provide you with free alternatives to Microsoft Windows.
Linux distributions will take full advantage of today’s modern, high-end systems; but, many also perform exceptionally well on older systems. There are hundreds of Linux distributions; but, what you need to know for purposes of this post is open source providers, like the various Linux distributions, offer free solutions, including full operating systems. Whereas, Microsoft Windows requires a paid license and separate, paid installation copies for each device, most Linux distributions are entirely free and allow multiple installations on multiple devices. For an office with a limited number of computers, the initial costs of upgrading to Windows 7 or Windows 8 might make perfect sense; but, in a larger setting, costs can quickly add up.
Keep in mind that if you decide to use a Linux distribution with open source applications, you will not be able to run Windows applications such as Microsoft Office and Windows versions of programs like QuickBooks; instead, you will usually need to find open source alternatives that run on Linux. I say ‘usually’, because there are some exceptions to that general rule. Some Windows programs will run in Linux by use of another open source program, called Wine; and, even more will run through a paid program, called CrossOver from Codeweavers. If you primarily intend to run Windows-based software, your safest approach is to stick with Microsoft Windows as your operating system.
If you are willing to forgo Microsoft Windows in favor of Linux distributions, your choices for applications will be numerous. Distrowatch maintains a running list of the top 100 Linux distributions. A number of Linux distributions have user interfaces that are somewhat similar in style to the look and feel of Windows XP; plus, many free online community support sites have grown up around these distributions. Ubuntu, a popular Linux distribution, has one of the largest online community support groups and also offers paid customer support if you want the ability to call and speak with traditional tech support representatives. Puppy Linux is a distribution designed to run on older systems; and there are also various Ubuntu derivatives that have been specifically designed to run on very old computers with older processors, little RAM, and small hard drives. Two of the most popular Ubuntu derivatives designed for older systems are Xubuntu and Lubuntu. Most of the top-rated distributions feature open source office productivity software such as Libre Office, that offers file formats compatible with Microsoft Office and web browsers like MozillaFirefox or Google Chrome. Each distribution’s application utility will allow you to download a number of other free programs. By way of illustration, a Linux distribution such as Xubuntu, which includes AbiWord, a great open source word processor from AbiSource, will allow you, through its application utility, to download other open source programs, like GnuCash, a free money management and accounting program.
Since the Linux distributions and open source applications that run through them are free of charge, you’ll experience a significant cost savings upon conversion. But, as with paid operating systems and applications, you should not commit to an open source operating system or applications without first testing them in your environment. Fortunately, you can try most of these programs before installing them on your computer’s hard drive, in order to determine whether they will support all your hardware, including your peripherals. Most Linux distributions can be run from a CD, DVD or USB flash drive, in so-called ‘live mode’, before being installed. If the open source model suits your needs, you can then install the programs on your system.
Whatever route you choose to address the approaching end of extended support by Microsoft of Windows XP, the time to start exploring your options is now.