Kenneth Burns: Windows XP’s demise marks the end of an era

Apr. 12, 2014 @ 11:59 PM

The deadline came and went last week, and I'm pretty sure the world didn't end.

But a lot of people still need to upgrade their computers.

On Tuesday, April 8, Microsoft ended free support for Windows XP. The company released that version of its flagship operating system in 2001. It was an epic run, by software standards.

In the days and weeks before April 8, I was reminded of the countdown to Dec. 31, 1999, when everyone was worried about the Y2K bug that was going to destroy civilization. (It didn't.)

The predictions for Windows XP weren't quite as dire, but the situation actually is pretty serious.

By some reckonings, hundreds of millions of people still use Windows XP. Now that Microsoft is no longer providing updates and security fixes for it, there appears to be a massive opportunity for fraud.

If your computer still runs XP, I urge you to upgrade or replace it right away.

Thirteen years after it was introduced, Windows XP seems quaint. I don't mean quaint in comparison to the latest version of the Microsoft operating system, the hot mess known as Windows 8.1. The sooner we all put that behind us, the better.

I mean quaint compared to the way we do so much of our computing these days, with the iPhones and Android devices we keep in our pockets.

They are called smartphones, but the phoning part is almost incidental. They are powerful computers. They are personal computers that seem a lot more personal than the original personal computers, the beige boxes that used to take up space on our desks.

I'm just old enough to remember the time before personal computers. In the 1970s, when I was little, if I thought about computers at all, I thought about massive, room-size machines with blinking lights and whirling reels of tape.

Then the first PCs for consumers came available. The Apple II. Later, the Commodore 64.

These fascinated me, even though I wasn't exactly sure what they were for. I mainly used computers to play videogames, through junior high or so.

Then, for a time, I pretty much stopped using computers altogether.

It seems funny to say this now, when we celebrate all aspects of nerd culture, but in the 1980s, there was a social stigma attached to computers. Media portrayals of computer experts weren't flattering.

I was already an anxious, self-conscious teenager, and I wanted no part of that. So I walked away.

I used a typewriter to write papers in high school, and through much of college. That seems amazing to me now.

Then, in about 1992, I got my first real computer, a beige box, a hand-me-down IBM compatible. I was less anxious and self-conscious by then, and I got fascinated all over again.

The more I learned about that machine, the more I wanted to learn. I spent hours studying arcane aspects of hardware and software.

Via my university, I got connected to the Internet. This was before the World Wide Web. In those days, the Internet meant email and a few other applications, all of them text-based. The Internet was not yet an Internet of cat photos.

I was so fascinated by computers that although I majored in English, my first job out of college was at a computer consulting firm. I wrote software and installed networks.

I did that for five years, and I developed quite a few skills. So many skills, in fact, that messing around with computers remains one of my favorite leisure activities.

I realize that for most people, messing around with computers is a source of profound discomfort, not an enjoyable leisure activity.

That's where tablets, iPhones and Android devices come in. For the most part, they just work. Unlike with the old beige boxes, you're not really supposed to open them up and fool around inside.

I miss that about the old beige boxes. Along with Windows XP's run, the era of computing as a geeky hobby for do-it-yourselfers is drawing to a close.

We're heading into an easier computing future. It's probably for the best.

Meanwhile, upgrade your Windows XP computer!

Kenneth Burns is CommunityNews Editor of The Mountain Press. Call 428-0748, ext. 212, or send email to Twitter: @KennethBurns.