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How you can survive after MS pulls the plug on Windows XP

March 18, 2014 13:51 IST

How you can survive after MS pulls the plug on Windows XP

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Abhik Sen

After support ends for Windows XP, Microsoft will stop patching vulnerabilities and updating the operating system (OS). 

“The clock is ticking. What are we to do? I can’t just throw it away,” the voice at the other end of the line said. This was strange. Never in the past 25 years had I seen him so helpless.

That was Gupta uncle, my childhood buddy’s dad. I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t spoken to this gentleman, a retired engineer, for nearly a decade, though I was a regular at their home in my school days.

Of course, I was in touch with my friend, thanks to which he had ‘nominated’ me to tide over this crisis.

The clock he was referring to was Microsoft’s end of support countdown for Windows XP, which ends on April 8.

When my friend left for the UK some eight years ago, he passed on the desktop to his parents so that they could keep in touch. Running Windows XP Home, the PC had run without a hitch (well, nearly) for all these years.

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Image: Microsoft to end support for Windows XP on April 8.
Photographs: Reuters

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Uncle and aunty used it as just a communication tool - video chats, email and a bit of net surfing.

They had subsequently been gifted a notebook (running Windows 7, thankfully) and an iPad on my friend’s subsequent visits, but uncle preferred the convenience of the PC over other devices.

But a few weeks ago a relative had forwarded the link on the Microsoft website - and then all hell broke loose.

My friend had helped his parents download both the Windows 8 Upgrade Advisor and Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor tools, and both advised the elderly couple to replace their desktop as it didn’t meet the minimum system requirements for these operating systems.

We’ve been getting frantic calls for help in the past few months. But first here’s why using Windows XP may be a bit of a risk after April 8.

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Image: Using Windows XP may be a bit of a risk after April 8.
Photographs: Reuters
Tags: Microsoft

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How you can survive after MS pulls the plug on Windows XP

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Abhik Sen

After support ends for Windows XP, Microsoft will stop patching vulnerabilities and updating the operating system (OS).

What this means is . And Microsoft may be inadvertently providing these malware makers with the tools for such an exploit.

As Tim Rains, director, Trustworthy Computing, Microsoft, says on his blog: “When Microsoft releases a security update, security researchers and criminals will often reverse engineer the security update in short order in an effort to identify the specific section of code that contains the vulnerability addressed by the update. Once they identify this vulnerability, they attempt to develop code that will allow them to exploit it on systems that do not have the security update installed on them. They also try to identify whether the vulnerability exists in other products with the same or similar functionality.”

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Image: Any new loophole found in the OS can be used by people with malicious intent to hijack your PC.
Photographs: Reuters

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How you can survive after MS pulls the plug on Windows XP

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Abhik Sen

To counter this, Rains adds, Microsoft releases security updates for all affected products simultaneously. But with the end of support for Windows XP, it won’t receive any more updates.

As a result the “very first month that Microsoft releases security updates for supported versions of Windows, attackers will reverse engineer those updates, find the vulnerabilities and test Windows XP to see if it shares those vulnerabilities”.

This has far-reaching ramifications for what arguably is the world’s most popular OS. From PCs to notebooks to ATMs and embedded devices, Windows XP seems to be present everywhere. While it is scary to think of what can happen after April 8, enterprise users (as well as those using embedded devices) do have options to increase the life of their device by about a year.

But for home users, it seems there are little options other than upgrading, at least the OS.

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Photographs: Reuters
Tags: Microsoft

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How you can survive after MS pulls the plug on Windows XP

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Abhik Sen

If one’s PC isn’t connected to the internet or a network , one can still live with Windows XP, provided one invests in a good security (and update it in some manner). Any USB drives or external data accessed by the PC will have to be scanned.

It’s not foolproof, but it’s one way of using the PC till it runs. Otherwise, if one’s existing PC meets the system requirements to run Windows 7 or Windows 8 smoothly, it is prudent to invest in one of these.

Windows 7 is the nearest one can get to Windows XP, and it is still available online. Windows 8 (rather Windows 8.1) is a good and stable OS, but will be a steep learning curve for XP users.

But what about those users who can’t upgrade to a new OS nor would they want to junk their old PC? They have only one path - open source.

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Image: Bill Gates.
Photographs: Reuters
Tags: USB

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How you can survive after MS pulls the plug on Windows XP

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There are many flavours of Linux available, with Ubuntu, openSUSE, Debian and Fedora being the more popular ones.

Whatever one does, while upgrading, one needs to back up all data, because most processes will wipe the hard drive clean.

So, what did I do for Gupta uncle? My friend had suggested we go in for a new PC, but uncle turned it down. That, my uncle said, could be done the next time my friend was here.

For the moment, (thank you Skype!) I handheld uncle through downloading Ubuntu and burning it to a DVD. Next, we backed up all data to an external hard drive, the only device we purchased (ordered by my friend online).

Next, we booted from the DVD into Ubuntu (well it was uncle who was doing all the work while I was sitting a thousand kilometres away and guiding him on his iPad), wiped the hard drive clean and set it up with default settings.

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Image: Many flavours of Linux available.
Photographs: Courtesy, Wikimedia Commons

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We then downloaded and installed Skype, the latest version of the Mozilla Firefox browser and some Google services from the Ubuntu Software Center and were good to go.

We also downloaded a free anti-virus suite, while my friend scours the net to find out if a paid security suite for Linux makes sense.

Most Linux distributions come preinstalled with an office suite, a browser, other utilities and games, while one might need to install music codecs in some distributions.

Of course, the interface is different than Windows XP, but again not all that difficult. Uncle was up and about and using Ubuntu like a pro in a couple of days. Plus, his PC ran much faster.  

Thus, you have it. The end of life for Windows XP means you should take precautions - migrate or upgrade after taking backups. It doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the road for your devices or your digital life.

So you’re not caught napping

  • Upgrade to newer versions of Windows if your device supports it
  • If you don’t want to upgrade, go open source. Download any flavour of Linux (Ubuntu or openSUSE recommended), back up your hard drive and install the new OS
  • If you want to buy a new device, you can either go in for a Windows or Apple device. Or you could go in for a device running Linux
  • Always back up your data
  • Invest in a good security suite

Photographs: Courtesy, Wikimedia Commons

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