XPocalypse later?

English: This is a photo of a room full of com...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well it’s two months after the so called XPocalypse; the terrible wave of exploits that security experts predicted devastate the ancient operating system and I’m busy washing the remains of the egg off my face!

No sign of World-wide XP-specific attacks even though Microsoft were one of the first to shout in October 2013, when Tim Rains, director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group, cited statistics from the firm’s own telemetry to suggest that post-retirement Windows XP malware infection rates could jump dramatically.

But what did we get… zip, nada, zilch and a fair bit of egg on my face not to mention soem suspicions about talking many of my clients into dumping their tried and trusted old OS friend for it’s newer brother.

Last month a hack duped Windows Update into serving Windows XP systems with patches, but patches were from Windows Embedded POSReady 2009. That version, admittedly based on Windows XP SP3, was designed for point-of-sale systems, particularly cash registers, and automated teller machines. “Of course they say it is a bad idea to use the hack, they want people to move to Windows 8 and later Windows 9,” chimed in a reader identified only as “nilst2011” in a comment appended to the Computerworld news story.

But perhaps the good news, depending on your point of view, is that a zero day exploit for XP is not likely to target your ancient dual-core but be developed for a specific purpose and the available market of high-value Windows XP targets is dropping with every month, in short Cornficker 2 is probably not going to happen. In the last 12 months, XP has dropped 12.5% losing 33% it’s share as of May 2013, according to analytics firm Net Applications. If Windows XP continues to lose user share at its current tempo, it will be powering less than 10% all personal computers a year from now.

Meanwhile, despite the yolk being on me I’ll continue to recommend that users either install Windows 7 or 8 or buy a new machine. In the long run, I know it makes sense, in the short run, I hope my clients do as well.

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XP Migration – don’t get left behind

upgrade

XP migration need not be a nightmare!

I was asked a question on Monday that I hoped I would not hear it was “This XP thing, if we do nothing, what will really happen?”

This was a question from the person in charge of IT at my “day job” like a lot of small companies her role includes a lot more than just IT and often as not it was the IT that tended to get shunted to the end of the list. With my professional hat on and because I was a company user, I had hoped that my lectures on the need to move from XP to something more modern (delivered since Autumn of 2013) had not fallen on deaf ears but guessed that time and money both the enemies of our business had once again worked their evil spell and the chances of anything changing before 8th April 2014 was now remote.

The experts are fairly clear on this and according to them it is likely XP will be targeted by hackers support ends. But my overworked colleague is not the only one wondering if she can get away with doing nothing at all! It is estimated that as many as 30 per cent of firms have not upgraded from XP which begs the question why?

1. Cost: aside from the investment in new machines, there is also the time and money to do the upgrade. The company I work for uses an IT firm and one can guess that they will be looking for many thousands of pounds to do the work. But this needs to be set against the dangers of the loss of private data which could incur fines and the loss of productivity since a single compromised machine could bring the entire network of a business to a halt. It was mentioned that since my firm is small and unimportant they were unlikely to be targeted, a comment which simply proves the need for IT experts in all businesses! An upgrade to Windows 8 now could save thousand in the medium to long term.

2. Time: Many businesses are concerned about the time it will take to migrate to another operating system; it can take larger firms up to 30 months. Small firms can install and migrate in a fairly short space of time. I estimate the 100 or so machines we would only need 300-350 hours of install and migration time and with a server install this time could be reduced still further. Once you have completed the upgrade the time savings will be huge.

3. Training: I hear this one a lot, my own company is concerned that staff won’t adapt to the new operating system and while this may be true for some staff, many will already have Windows 7 or 8 in their homes and be used to using Android or IOS systems on their mobile devices. Often concerns like these will be more about the issues of senior management who are occasional users compared to their staff who will adapt easily. Which lead us neatly to the last item…
4. Fear of the new: Many businesses stick with XP simply because they are used to it and believe their staff are the same. They’ll trot out hardware excuses and concerns about some older application, but XP is more than a decade old and feeling its age. Even if it continued to be supported by Microsoft it is losing ground to its younger siblings and companies need to think that poor performance means poor productivity. In business outputs are all so it always surprises me that SME will often tolerate IT that would be more suited to an episode of “Flog It!” even though it costs them money they don’t have!

The message is clear, fail to upgrade at your own risk, you could be fine (for a while) or you could see your entire network corrupted. The danger is real and any reasonable prediction sees would be hackers trying out any and all vulnerabilties – simple because they can!

As for my lot in the day job, well I would not be surprised if they are not calling for the PCBloke in the very near future!

XP to Linux – Keep it simple!

Linux Mint 11

Linux Mint 11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

For many of my clients and people I have spoken to, the prospect of moving from Windows XP to something else has provoked annoyance, outrage and in many cases a blank refusal to accept that they need to do anything. The fact of the matter is that in April Microsoft will stop all support for XP desktops and the first well designed piece of malware that hits the net will (potentially) have the power to wreck havoc on XP machines. Whether that actually happens only time and malware will tell, but this blog post is for the people who don’t want to take the risk and

 

a) Decide to migrate to another operating system and;
b) Do not want to spend money on a new computer.

 

That really means a Linux Operating System. Linux at time of writing is about 150 free open source operating systems, covering a range of PC hardware. Just about any computer from the last 10-15 years will run some form of Linux distribution or “Distro.” But one of the weakness of Linux from the point of view of the new user is the sheer number of operating systems – which one is the best?

 

From the point of view of someone an XP user and at the risk of annoying the various distro fans out there I think you can narrow the choice to 3

 

1) Lubuntu – an OS decided for systems with no a lot of RAM and low powered processors. Pentium 4 Pentium M and the like and less than a gigabyte of RAM
2) Linux Mint – for more powerful systems, dual core processors and more than a gigabyte of RAM
3) Ubuntu – Modern processors, i series, 2 gigabytes of RAM and better

 

There are numerous caveats to this list but it’s a good starting point for a beginner.

 

Zorin market a heavily customised version of Linux with a strong Windows “feel” it needs a fairly good machine to run the eye candy but might make the transition easier. I will do a blog post on Zorin in the near future

 

One consolation for the XP user coming to terms with Linux is that in addition to the OS Linux will come with lots of software, typically, an office suite, usually Open Office or Libre Office, Audio and Video players, image software, PDF readers and much much more. To add to the bargain, literally thousands more pieces of software can be downloaded using a dedicated download device built into the operating system. No hunting around trying to find what you want only to discover you have downloaded all sorts of nasties in the process.

 

However anyone hoping to use Microsoft Office or Quicken or another MS programme will be disappointed. It is possible to get some software to run under Windows but I would always advise beginners to look to some of the alternatives. http://linuxappfinder.com/alternatives

 

Most distros will come with a Live CD, DVD, or USB flash drive version appropriate for the user that wants to try it out before committing to an installation. ‘

 

If this all sounds too good to be true there are downsides. Linux is not Windows so there is a new thing to learn, even downloading new software can be daunting to the uninitiated.  There is a good chance your printer or scanner may not work and all your carefully purchased Win XP software is just a mini Frisbee collection!  Against that, the big Linux Distros update twice a year cost nothing to run come with all the software available for free and Linux is virtually virus proof.

 

Is it for me?

 

If you are a power user of Microsoft products probably not, if you spend time on Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and browsing the web for Lolcats the chances are you will hardly notice the difference. Chrome and Firefox work perfectly well in Linux and some users may even enjoy a new challenege.
Links
Information on Ubuntu http://www.ubuntu.com/

 

Using Synaptic to download software in Ubuntu https://help.ubuntu.com/community/SynapticHowto

 

Information on Linux Mint http://www.linuxmint.com/

 

Information on Zorin, the Windows Friendly Distro http://zorin-os.com/

 

List of Linux operating systems http://distrowatch.com/

 

 

 

 

Munich goes open source

Munich’s switch to open-source software has been successfully completed, with the vast majority of the public administration’s users now running its own version of Linux, city officials said Thursday.

Munich managed to create over 14,800 LiMux workspaces for its approximately 15,500 desktops.  Full story here http://www.pcworld.com/article/2079800/switch-to-open-source-successfully-completed-city-of-munich-says.html#tk.fb_pc