Submitted by Thom Litts and Jeff Kopaska

If you work for an agency or university, it has happened to you.  The computer police called and said it is the end of the line for your XP machine.  Get signed up for a new computer, and hand the XP one over to us.  Everything will be fine.  Thank you.

You heard it, you experienced it, and now it is done (or will be soon).  But, everything is not fine.  At work, this means that a number of common tools used by fisheries professionals (e.g. FAMS, FishBC) will not function like they used to on your new computer, and may not function at all.  At my office we, are also trying to get the new machines to operate external devices (microscopes, survey scanners) that were originally set up for use with XP machines.  It is not going well, and there is not much support for these “peripheral problems”.   Sure, we’ll get some help with these “problems” from our respective IT staffers, but they are not going to solve them all.  We can help each other by utilizing the FITS blog site to pose questions needing answers, and sharing good solutions.

It is interesting to note, even with all the efforts to eradicate XP machines and with Windows XP’s end-of-life at hand, that XP is still a fairly prevalent OS.  Consider that a website Thom administers was accessed, in the last month (January 2014; >250k unique visits), predominately by computers running Windows 7 (1st, 32%), but followed by Windows XP (3rd, 7%), Windows Vista and 8.0 (4th & 5th, 4% each), and Windows 8.1 (9th, 2%) according to Google Analytics.

So, if you work at a place with “IT people”, this is supposed to get handled.  But what do you do if you work for a small company, or what about at home, where you are the “IT person” and rely on an XP box as your primary computer?

Well, if you’re wed to a Microsoft OS, the obvious option is to buy a new computer with a supported Windows OS such as Windows 7 or Windows 8(x).  Extended support for these OS run into the next decade, so you’re safe on that front.  But beware –if you are hoping to land a new computer with Windows 7 – though it is still possible (verified via a 2/3/2014 visit to a popular PC builders website) – the options are limited, and fading.  Good news is that if you opt for a new computer, you will likely find that prices are considerably lower than you paid years ago for a lesser machine.

If your XP box is relatively new (2-3 years old) you might also be able to upgrade to Windows 8 (x).  Microsoft offers a freely downloadable tool that you can run locally and assess the potential of your existing machine for upgrade.  You can read up on and download the Windows 8.1 Upgrade Assistant here; or key in “xp end of life” to your favorite search engine and poke around on the returned pages for more info.

If you’re frugal, and/or broke (like us), you might also look to an auction house run by a major computer vendor and buy a refurbished computer.  This is how we’ve operated over the last decade or so.  Yeah – they’re refurbished, but so far we’ve had good luck – and at this point in the game we’ve both come to think of computers as a disposable/recyclable product.  So for dimes on the dollar, and Windows 7 as an option (albeit the 32-bit version – a discussion for another day), this is one avenue to consider.

If you’re downright stingy, destitute, or simply tired of Microsoft you can convert your XP machine to a Linux box for exactly: $0.00.  There are many flavors of Linux to choose from and you can even get by running Linux off a bootable USB Stick (instructions for Ubuntu Linux) for internet access (and more), while keeping XP installed to run your favorite Microsoft software – though you may want to disconnect from your Wifi or Ethernet before booting to the later.

Here are links to a small set of popular Linux flavors – there are many!

ZorinMINT  |Ubuntu |Puppy  –  here is an evaluation from TechRepublic  on Zorin as a replacement for XP,  with a lot of useful reader comments.

It is important to note that on April 9,2014 your XP box will boot up as it did the day before.  Just be aware that Microsoft no longer supports the OS – at all – XP Mode included!  Specifically, and most importantly, this means no more security updates!  However, Microsoft will still provide malware protection through Security Essentials (if you’ve downloaded and installed it prior to April 8,2014) for some period of time, and there are also 3rd party options on this end of the equation.  Just be warned, hackers and malware providers love to hate Microsoft – so if you decide to make a go of it with XP, you do so at your own risk!

Jeff Kopaska is a graduate of Iowa State University currently employed as a biometrician in fisheries research at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  Jeff is very involved in the American Fisheries Society (AFS) where he has served as the President of AFS-Fisheries Information and Technology Section and is the current Chair of AFS-Electronic Services Advisory Board.  Jeff also serves as the Iowa representative to MARIS (Multi-state Aquatic Resources Information System) and is on the Science and Data Committee of the National Fish Habitat Partnership.  As an employee of Iowa DNR Fisheries, Jeff oversees many of the technology-related efforts undertaken.

This blog post has been adopted from Jeff’s Digital Revolution column, which is featured monthly in the AFS Fisheries Magazine.  Continue the conversation here by leaving your comments or you may contact Jeff directly via email.

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