XP is old -- very old, if you measure age in Internet time.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Buy a new Vista PC? Upgrade your current computer? Or is it time to switch?

Sept. 17, 2006

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, The Post-Standard

   Vista, Microsoft's new version of Windows, is almost ready to roll. You'll be able to purchase a Vista PC or an upgrade for your current Windows computer by the end of January. (Here's a report on how much Vista will cost and where you can order it ahead of time.)
   Vista has a lot of advantages over Microsoft's current operating system, Windows XP. But the comparison with XP, which will be six years old when Vista is introduced, is misleading. XP is old -- very old, if you measure age in Internet time. A better comparison is OS X ("oh ess ten"), the operating system that powers Apple's new Macintosh computers.
   When held up against OS X, Vista at first seems little more than an attempt at flattery. It has see-through windows and dialog boxes (something OS X has had since 2001), secure user accounts (in OS X from the beginning), a safer Web browser (an OS X feature for many years), a built-in calendar (part of OS X, likewise) and dozens of other features Apple users have enjoyed for five years.
   But whether Microsoft copied Apple's operating system or simply came up with similar ideas, Vista obviously is not the only choice for Windows users who want to ditch XP for something safer. And switching to an Apple Macintosh computer is not the only alternative, either. You might find your best choice is to stay with what you have.
   Here are four possible scenarios you might consider, with the advantages (the good stuff) and disadvantages (the bad stuff, of course) of each. I'll have more to say about each of these choices in weeks to come, too.
   1. Full speed ahead. Your Windows PC is too old and slow to upgrade and you're not about to switch to another kind of computer. Choice: Buy a new Vista PC. Good stuff: Faster and somewhat safer computing; your old software will still work. Bad stuff: Viruses and spyware will go after Windows Vista PCs just as they do older PCs. Tough stuff: You have to pay the cost of a new PC.
   2. Lower the lifeboats. Your Windows PC is driving you crazy with Windows updates that don't work and viruses that can't be stopped. Spyware is turning you into a closet CIA agent. Choice: Buy an Apple Macintosh with OS X. Good stuff: No spyware and no Windows viruses, a faster and much safer computer and built-in DVD movie making. Not to mention all that cool iTunes stuff. Good stuff, continued: Your Windows software will still run on your new Mac when you install Windows on it. (That ability is built in.) Bad stuff: You have to pay the cost of a new PC.
   3. Catch the wave. Your Windows PC is only a few years old and it's a hot performer, with gobs of disk space and memory. You're not bothered much by viruses and spyware. Choice: Upgrade to Vista. Good stuff: Cheaper than a new Windows or Mac PC. Easy changeover. Faster and somewhat safer. Bad stuff: Unless you are really sure your current PC is fast enough and has enough disk space and RAM, you might have to add memory and a newer disk drive once you start working with Vista. It's a glutton for that stuff.
   4. Wake me when it's over. You're not about to make the world's richest software company any wealthier, and you have no intention of jumping ship. So you stick with what you've got, leaks and all. You might be interested in ways to make your current PC safer if you could do it cheaply. Good stuff: It's a five-letter word that starts with "C" and ends with "P." Bad stuff: You will have an old Windows PC.
   (Tom Andrews sensed that I left Linux out, so he proposed the next option, in his own words.)
   5. Take on a challenge. You're tired of viruses and other malware, but you want to keep your old hardware. You have a few programs that have no counterpart outside of Windows, but your life won't be over if you no longer have them. You like fooling around with your computer and learning new things. You fancy yourself a computer hobbyist, so you give Linux a try. Good stuff: Most Linux distributions ("distros") are free for the downloading and come with a huge variety of application software packages, including things like office suites and graphic editing software. Linux is immune to all Windows malware, as immune as Mac's OS X. Several Windows programs can be run from within Linux by using a program called "WINE." Linux gives the administrative user the power to change the machine's software configuration to suit himself. Bad stuff: Linux gives the administrative user the power to screw everything up if he isn't careful. Many pieces of hardware will operate "out of the box," some will work someday in the future, and some will never work. Some things will need "tweaking" before they'll work, and that will often require research and education, the "hobbyist" part of the above description. Linux always has a work-in-progress feel, because that's exactly what it is; always under development with significant updates/upgrades issued on an annual or semiannual basis for some distros.
   Next week: How to stick with your old version of Windows while making it safer and easier to use.