End of an Era

PARKERSBURG – Computers running on Windows XP won’t suddenly stop working because Microsoft has ended support of the operating system, but local computer experts say it is time for those using the product to go in a different direction.

That could mean upgrading their existing computer, buying a new one or finding an alternative operating system.

“Initially, there’s no difference,” said Edward Escandon, owner of Really Cheap Geeks on Emerson Avenue in Parkersburg. “It’s just not going to get any more updates.”

Microsoft officially ended its support for Windows XP on May 1, although the system was included in a recent update aimed at plugging vulnerabilities in the popular Internet Explorer program. Computers running on XP continue to work, but as additional security updates are issued by Microsoft, the older system won’t be included.

“You’ll be more vulnerable to malware and viruses,” Escandon said.

And that means more opportunities for personal information stored on a computer to be stolen.

“If you use your computer for banking or have any personal information on it, you need to make changes,” Kevin Tawney, with Tawney PC Repair in St. Marys, said in a release from the Pleasants County Chamber of Commerce.

Microsoft recommends computer users upgrade to its latest operating system, Windows 8.1, but older supported versions, such as Windows 7, are also viable options, Tawney said. Whether an individual’s computer can handle it varies by device.

Escandon said computers that came out in the early 2000s, around the introduction of XP, likely can’t or shouldn’t be upgraded to the newer operating systems. He’s not recommending upgrades for computers with single-core processors.

“Your experience starts to be pretty slow,” he said.

Escandon said his business can provide upgrades on the newer computers for less than $100.

Bob Mathews, director of the Wood County school district’s technology and information department, said for some people with older computers, it might make more sense to buy a new computer than spend the money on an upgrade.

“I’d be leery of honestly telling them to spend $100 on a new Windows license,” he said.

But if either buying a new operating system or a new computer is too expensive for a person to do immediately, Mathews offered a few suggestions.

First of all, they could use a different browser than Internet Explorer.

“That would be my biggest recommendation if they can’t move off Windows XP,” Mathews said, adding it’s a good idea to have another browsing option available anyway.

And while Windows is popular, there are other operating systems available, including Linux-based systems, which can be downloaded for free. If a person primarily uses their computer for surfing the Internet, checking email and doing office-type work, Mathews said, the Mint or Ubuntu systems should serve them well.

“They’re going to run on older machines for the most part without any issue,” he said.

Out of between 8,000 and 9,000 machines that use some version of Windows, the school district has less than 100 machines still running on XP.

“We’re going to probably try to make sure those are out of service by the beginning of next (school) year,” Mathews said.

Under a new agreement between Microsoft and the West Virginia Department of Education, the district will not have to pay for the new licenses.

The Wolf Creek Local school district is also in the process of upgrading computers from XP to Windows 7, and was doing so prior to the announcement that XP would no longer be supported. It’s one of the recommended standards as Ohio transitions to completely online testing.

Lisa Wagner, librarian/media specialist and technology coordinator for the district, estimated between 50 and 75 desktops and laptops in the district are still using XP.

The City of Marietta is in the process of replacing 18 computers running on Windows XP at a cost of $13,200.