Delaying Windows upgrades: Do you feel lucky?

The pending release of Windows 8.1 might have you thinking about putting off your OS upgrades. But given that Windows XP is 12 years old, a virtual eternity in the computer industry, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?'
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Editor's note: The original version of this article was published on October 20, 2012. The author was an employee of IBM when it was written. It has been edited for updated content.


I know what you're thinking: "Do I really want this new Start screen? Do I want to go through a learning experience to deal with this?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this Windows 8.1 pre-release excitement, I kind of considered this myself.

But being that XP is now 12 years old, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

My ZDNet colleague, Steven J Vaughn-Nichols, has suggested in the past that if you're currently using Windows XP, you should probably stick with it. He doesn't like the way Windows 8.x changes things, and feels that it offers "no real improvements over Windows 7 or XP".

I do agree with Steven that Windows 8.x does change things, and some minor adaptation by the end user is going to be required.

There's no getting around the fact that the new Start screen, with its Live Tiles-based UI and full-screen Windows Store apps, has been a big surprise to end users that have never encountered it before.

However, when Steven and I crossed lightsabers in the ZDNet Great Debate almost one year ago on whether if Windows 8.x should be installed on older PC's, I took the position that one should still do it despite the learning curve.

And while you cannot entirely discount the learning curve, it's not as serious as many industry pundits are making it out to be, and certainly not as confusing as some writers at more mainstream news outlets have purported it to be.

If you've been using a modern version of Windows at least since Vista or Windows 7, you've got maybe a day of adaptation to deal with and learning some new behaviors, if that.

To test this theory out, a year ago I gave the release code of Windows 8 Home Edition to my wife, who is running it on an Intel Atom-based all-in-one desktop PC with 4GB of RAM, hardly a powerful machine.

I showed her how to switch back and forth between the new Start screen and the traditional desktop, and how the new tiles UI and Windows Store works.

That took a whole 15 minutes. I haven't had one complaint since that she's gotten "lost" or is "confused" and hasn't been able to get her work done.

I think we've beaten that horse enough over the last two years to make a good argument that given everything the OS offers, it's definitely a worthwhile upgrade over Windows 7 and Windows Vista. So it should be a given that it's a significant upgrade over XP.

While my wife has been using Windows for over 20 years, she's not an IT geek by any stretch of the imagination. She's just a competent end user, which probably puts her in with the majority of people who are in the workforce and have to use and own PCs.

Sure, there are still folks who struggle with very basic concepts such the differences between folders and files, don't understand what a URL is, or don't know how to connect to a wireless network. No, really, these people still exist.

These are the same friends and relatives who need constant hand holding and the yearly PC software refresh and cleanup. Thanksgiving approacheth, and I suggest some of you think real carefully before offering your personal IT support services, because you will have to give these folks training. I guarantee it.

But these people probably aren't working the type of jobs that require using PCs on a daily basis and they may not even be productive members of the workforce, period. And they sure as heck aren't reading this column or any of the articles on this website.

After all, if a 3-year-old child can figure it out, why can't a 44-year-old adult who's been using PCs in some form for their entire career?

I think we've beaten that horse enough over the last two years to make a good argument that given everything the OS offers, it's definitely a worthwhile upgrade over Windows 7 and Windows Vista. So it should be a given that it's a significant upgrade over XP.

But maybe you're still not convinced.

Obi-Vaughn says you should stay with your XP. You know what? So did I. In June 2008. And that's when the OS was seven years old, it had its most recent Service Pack, and we were all facing the horrifying prospect of moving to Windows Vista.

That being said, there's been a lot of positive changes in the last five years to Windows. The hardware support has improved tremendously, and Microsoft has done great work in improving all-around system performance and efficiency.

But they've also made the OS a lot easier to continue to maintain and it is far less of a malware target due to fundamental architectural changes that have been made, beginning with Windows Vista.

I don't have to tell how much more sophisticated malware has become since 2008, and how inadequate XP is to being up to the task of dealing with it, particularly with zero-day attacks.

Windows 8.x comes with integrated antimalware in the form of Windows Defender, which completely eliminates the need for third-party antivirus and antispyware software. That alone in my opinion is worth the price of admission if you're a consumer considering taking the plunge.

It is also worth mentioning that by continuing to use XP, you run the risk of eventually being abandoned by software and hardware/device vendors with future patches and updates.

Currently, the most recent and standards-compliant web browser you can run on XP is Google Chrome, and it's questionable as to how long the company is going to support browser builds on XP.

There's also Firefox, but again, it's an open-source project that is going to have to make its development priorities based on limited resources and targeting the most popular OS platforms.

Are you one of those folks or small businesses that finds themselves having to refresh the OS once every year or so due to some random malware infection or some other software or hardware failure?

You've probably noticed by now that reinstalling a Windows XP system and getting it up to current patch levels with all the required device drivers is an exercise that essentially throws your entire day in the toilet.

That is, unless you've purchased some kind of bare metal backup and restore system like Acronis, or you're an enterprise environment that has maintained XP master images and uses Windows Deployment Services (WDS) or some other integrated workstation build and patch management solution.

Which, by the way, is a huge investment in time and energy to continue to maintain legacy OSes like XP. Ask any desktop support person in any IT support organization.

They hate it, and they hate you for continuing to make them do it.

So if you're an enterprise and have put off your Windows 7 deployments, you're just asking for more pain and continuing your exposure.

Do you feel lucky? Well do'ya?

If you still have concerns about upgrading, here's a simple decision matrix.

  • If you're a Windows 8 user already, the Windows 8.1 upgrade is free.

  • If you're a consumer currently using Windows 7, the need to upgrade is far less compelling than if you are a Windows XP or a Vista user, but you'll enjoy the benefits of several years of performance enhancements and bug fixes, being able to eliminate your existing antimalware suite in favor of a much more integrated solution, as well as enjoy the new Windows Store apps and integrated cloud services.

  • If you bought a Windows Vista system (or you "Downgraded" from Vista to XP) and passed on Windows 7, it's time to move on.

  • If you bought an XP system that was just on the cusp of the Windows Vista upgrade in 2008, and you passed on Vista and Windows 7, by the same token, move on.

  • If you've got an XP system that was purchased between 2001 and 2006, then you should probably be considering replacing the computer. I realize there are people out there who are hesitant to spend any kind of money on computer equipment given the economy, such as older folks with fixed incomes, but PC prices are cheaper than ever these days.

You could always breathe life into your old clunker with Linux, but if we're talking learning curves, Linux isn't even on the same planet as Windows 8.x if you've grown accustomed to using Microsoft OSes.

If you really think that the Windows 8.x Start Screen is going to give you fits, then don't even try Ubuntu. Good luck getting all your favorite Windows applications to work in that too, especially without virtualization technology.

Are you going to stick with XP and assume the risks, or are you going to take the Windows 8.1 plunge? Talk back and let me know.

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