It’s three whole years since I started writing this weekly blog for my computer support clients (and anyone else who may stumble upon it)

3yearSo, I thought I’d have a look back over the last year and see what’s changed and what hasn’t…

In December of last year I got my hands on the iPad Mini. This has now become my favourite piece of computer hardware of all time. Using it with the matching Logitech keyboard, I can do real work away from home without lugging a “proper” computer around. And the latest bit of fun I’ve discovered is to use it as a remote control for the iTunes music collection hosted by my Mac Mini. When they release a version of the iPad that makes a decent cup of coffee, it will be nearly perfect.

Also in December, I started warning about Microsoft’s decision to stop supporting Windows XP and Office 2003 after April 2014. They haven’t changed their minds and nor are they likely to! It’s just possible that these products won’t become irresistible targets for virus attacks after April 2014, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Microsoft Surface

The Microsoft Surface

In January I was starting to think about buying a Microsoft Surface. This is the very light netbook/tablet that runs a “cut down” version of Windows 8. In the 10 months since then I’ve only had one person even mention them to me and I haven’t seen one in the flesh outside of Peter Jones in Sloane Square. Looks as if Microsoft may have mis-calculated with this product. Certainly, I don’t think it likely that I’m going to have to buy one any time soon in order to keep up with what my clients are interested in.

In February I had a whinge about websites cleverly leading us to make the choices they would prefer us to make, rather than the choices we set out to make. No change there, then. AVG, for instance, are still offering us an orange button to choose the free version of their antivirus program and a green button for the paid one. It’s all very well saying “I’m too intelligent to be led down the wrong path by such tricks“, but this type of practice must work or they wouldn’t be doing it. It’s a piece of cake for them to test the results of a web page that includes such dubious tactics against another that doesn’t. It’s not just AVG doing this, of course.

In April I was still predicting the demise of the computer fair that takes place in the Student Union of London University on a Saturday. I’m happy to report that, so far, I’m wrong. It’s still holding on. I’d much rather pay £2 for a cable at the fair than £10 for the same cable in PC World or wherever. If the nerd in you feels like braving it, just follow the directions on the black and orange placards to be seen along the length of Tottenham Court Road on a Saturday.

Evernote ItemsI gave Evernote several plugs during the year. I find the interface a bit quirky at times, and this is made more complicated by the different interfaces for Mac OSX, Mac IOS, Windows, and Android. And is it just my imagination, or do they keep changing things? Nevertheless, I find Evernote to be robust, useable, and ever more useful as I pour more and more data into it. After just a few months, I wouldn’t want to try and do without it.

In June I had a lefty rant about the government spying on us. At that time the Conservative half (3/4?) of government still wanted to enact the Snooper’s Charter, but Nick Clegg was talking as if he’d got a backbone by saying it wouldn’t happen while he’s still in government (make the most of it, Nick – not much longer now). Anyway, the issue is still definitely alive. As the Guardian put it recently, ” The Home Office’s head of counter-terrorism has revived his fight to secure the return of the “snooper’s charter” legislation”.

And what’s around the corner for the next twelve months? I’ve no idea.

And what would I like in the next twelve months? Well, I do wish the date for fibre optic broadband in my area would stop slipping back. As I see more and more of my clients’ connections delivering really fast download speeds I do rather envy them. I dare say there are plenty of people outside the M25 who would be glad of the 6mbit per sec that manages to get south of the river to SW4, but it still seems slow to me a lot of the time.

Thanks for reading and please stay tuned for year four!

The end of Windows XP. Should you panic? Can you ignore it? And what does “support”mean anyway?

Windows XP LogoWell, if you are not a user of XP, you can ignore the news. But if your system is in the 14% of all systems in the UK still using it (as at November 2012), then you’ll have to wake up to reality some time in the next few months.

“Mainstream Support” for Windows XP ended in 2009. Since that time, we have been in what Microsoft calls “Extended Support”. During this phase the only changes to XP are those called “security updates”. These are the changes needed to keep up with new security threats as they crop up when the villains out there find new ways to exploit weaknesses in Windows XP. At the beginning of April 2014 Microsoft will stop fighting new threats to XP. They will no longer update XP to ensure that it is safe to use. In computer jargon, Microsoft will cease to support XP. Source.

What does it mean to “support” something in computer terms?

If we just look at a manufacturer “supporting” its own product, then it means that it will continue to make necessary changes (to remove bugs, for instance) and that you should be able to get help from the manufacturer if that product has a problem. So, if MegaBrill Software announces that it is no longer supporting MegaBrill 2002 it means that you are on your own if you still use that version. It doesn’t mean that the program immediately stops working.

Windows XP FlagIf we look at how products interact, then “support” means that the software was specifically designed to work with whatever it claims to “support”. It also means that the program will be tweaked and updated to cater for the changes and updates to whatever it is supporting (Windows XP, in this case). So, if MegaBrill Software say that MegaBrill 2009 supports Windows XP then you can expect it to work on a system running Windows XP. It’s just possible that the two items would work together without official “support” but if anything goes wrong then there would be no help available from the manufacturer. It could also mean that the version of the program you have been using may work with something else now, but that a newer version won’t.

So, if you have been using Megabrill 2009 quite happily with Windows XP and you decide to upgrade it to the latest version – MegaBrill 2013 – you may find that it won’t run with your Windows XP. You might then find in Megabrill’s product information that MegaBrill 2013 only supports Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. This means that it probably won’t work with your XP. In the computer jargon, “MegaBrill 2013 does not support Windows XP”.

You may encounter the same problem if you buy a new piece of equipment such as a printer. It may not support Windows XP. If you think about it, it makes sense. If the printer manufacturer is bringing out a new product in 2013, why spend time and money to make it work with an operating system (Windows XP) that is not going to be supported by Microsoft beyond Spring 2014?

More and more software and hardware will cease support for Windows XP as they release new versions of their products. Again, why would they spend time and money making sure that their software works with an operating system that it will become increasingly dangerous to use. So, an existing piece of software that you have that currently works with XP may become “unupdateable”. It will also mean, of course, that XP users will not be able to use brand new software as that new software will not have been written to be used with XP right from the start of that software’s life.

Windows XP StickerApart from software compatibility problems, Windows XP will become increasingly unsafe to use after April 2014 as the bad guys find new ways to exploit XP in order to mess up your system, extort money from you, steal data, and so forth. They may even increase their efforts to exploit XP and its users. For a while there will be a lot of opportunity for them as they know that their efforts to undermine XP will not be counteracted by Microsoft. Likewise, they will know that it may be worth spending some time and effort exploiting programs that stop supporting XP as they know that XP users will continue to use the vulnerable, unupdated versions of those programs.

There are going to be a lot of people affected by the withdrawal of support for Windows XP by Microsoft. In November 2012, Windows XP was still being used by over a quarter of all computers worldwide. Even in the UK, Windows XP is still the operating system on 14% of systems – more than the figure of 12% for Mac OSX (the operating system for Mac desktop and laptop computers). Source.

So, if you are still using windows XP, there’s no need to panic but it really would be a good idea to start thinking about replacing it. If you are still using XP then it’s almost certain that the hardware you are using it on should also be replaced. My guess would be that the hardware is at least five years old (as that was when Vista was released. So, even if you are a “light” home user who doesn’t need to be at the cutting edge of dekstop/laptop technology, I reckon you’ve had your money’s worth out of that computer and it’s time to move on. For what it’s worth, I advise my own computer clients that four years is long enough to expect a “business” computer to last and five years for a home user.

© 2011-2019 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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