Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, April 13, 2014 10:54 am

Pulling the plug

Filed under: Geek-related issues,Housekeeping — Lex @ 10:54 am
Tags: , , , ,

A little more than 10 years ago, I got a Sony VGC-RA716GY desktop for Christmas. I called it a scream machine, a term used for the world’s fastest roller coasters. Turbocharged dual processor, a practically unheard-of gigabyte of RAM, top-of-the-line video card, hundreds of gigs of hard drive, 23-inch LCD monitor, plus speakers and a subwoofer loud enough to, literally, bother the neighbors. It ran on Windows XP Media Center Edition, meaning that I could, among other things, hook it up to a standard cable wire (as well as cable Internet) and use it as a TV — it even came with a remote for that.

It also came equipped with Adobe Premiere Elements for video editing, Photoshop Elements for image editing, SonicStage for audio editing/ mastering, Click 2 DVD for burning video into a standard-format DVD, slots for every variety of video card that exists, and audio-video input jacks and cables so that I could digitize my LP and VCR collections.

In the past decade I have used the machine for work and personal projects, business, education, and pleasure, from paying bills and doing taxes to watching digitized video of my then-3-year-old daughter’s first ballet recital. (That is, she was 3 when the video was shot; I watched on the computer after I got it a couple of years later.) Because I’m occasionally stupid but not that stupid, I backed up my stuff regularly, and when the original hard drive died five years ago, the reinstallation process for the OS, though lengthy, went without a hitch, and the restoration of settings and data from backup, though also lengthy, went likewise.

Nearly as I can tell, to date the machine has cost me a little more than 50 cents a day to own, and it has been worth every penny.  It could use more memory and a faster video card to keep up with some of the newer apps; with them, it would be as useful as the day I got it. But I don’t do a lot of gaming, and the motherboard won’t support them.

But it has one other problem I can’t fix: On Tuesday, Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP — worldwide. No more updates, not even for security. And because of the security required for some of my data — both personal and for freelance projects — not to mention fending off the day-to-day viruses and other malware floating around, that meant that the machine had to be disconnected from the Internet. So, after migrating secure data to a different machine, I pulled the wireless card and unplugged the network cord.

So is the Sony now a $2,000 paperweight? No, it’s now a $2,000 Minesweeper game.

Kidding. For one thing, it still holds about 20 gigs’ worth of digital photos that I need migrate to another machine and close to 50 gigs’ worth of music, from EMDR recordings for my mental health to Coltrane to the Sex Pistols to the Gap Band to Bach, enough to provide uninterrupted, unrepeated music for weeks. And it doesn’t need Internet to rock the neighbors’ worlds.

And with teenagers in the house, I’m not getting rid of any otherwise functional computer just because they might have to get their school assignments onto and off it with a thumb drive. When I was their age, we didn’t even HAVE thumb drives. And I have games I can install for them that don’t require Internet, like Diner Dash. So the Sony will live on, although I’ll probably be in the market for a new desktop later this year. (And when I am, I’ll definitely be buying a machine with Windows 7 Professional*, NOT Windows 8, although that’s a story for another time.)

I will say this: It bugs the hell out of me that Microsoft is ending even security upgrades for XP. And it’s not just personal. I had no experience with XP Personal (no pun intended), but XP Professional (of which Media Center Edition is a subset) was the most rock-solid OS Microsoft had ever produced to that point. It. Just. Worked. It almost never crashed, which was a huge step up from any previous Microsoft OS; only Win2K had come close to XP’s stability. Particularly after what happened with Vista, a lot of people, including myself, vowed never to change from XP.

But more importantly, a lot of people, and institutions, can’t upgrade (and I use that term loosely) from XP, or at least couldn’t by April 8 of this year. The British and Dutch governments are paying Microsoft a lot of money to continue XP support just for them. And the lack of security upgrades has important implications here at home. Many, many medical facilities continue to use XP machines because the applications they use have not had Win7- or Win8-compatible upgrades approved yet by the FDA. On Tuesday, all those XP machines still in service became noncompliant with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, although, as the linked article shows, CIOs have a number of (not-inexpensive) options for dealing with it.

Oh, and this’ll make you feel good: 95% of ATMs currently in service use XP.

But enough about Microsoft and XP (if you have an XP machine and didn’t know about this, you definitely should Google the subject, though) and back to me.

I don’t normally get sentimental over things, particularly things that are of more practical than personal value. The only thing I’ve ever owned that comes close was my 1987 Volkswagen Golf. But I’ve loved this computer. I don’t love it so much that I would continue to use it without protection, obviously. But it has been inextricably combined with my work, graduate education and life, and the lives, schoolwork, Scouting work, and recreation of my children,  in the Web 2.0 era.

Someday, perhaps soon, something will happen to it that won’t be cost-effective to fix, and that’ll be that. When that day comes, the good people at HandyCapable Network will be getting a donation that will enrich the lives of the people they work with and serve. Until then, the Sony will still be doing plenty of useful things here in our house. It just won’t be doing them anywhere else.

*Suggestions welcome, but so far it looks as if I’ll have to be custom-ordering from Dell. Oh, well.

6 Comments »

  1. Just upgrade the OS. Install win 8 and let it ride another 10 years.

    Comment by thehvacguy — Sunday, April 13, 2014 11:24 am @ 11:24 am | Reply

  2. Don’t want Win8. Want to stick with Win7Pro because it’s even more stable than XP. Besides, I’d need to add memory to upgrade the OS, and my motherboard won’t let me add more than the gig I have now.

    Comment by Lex — Sunday, April 13, 2014 5:05 pm @ 5:05 pm | Reply

  3. They’re making Win 8.1 a lot more like Win7 Pro because touch isn’t a business platform right now. As for XP use, you’re dead-on right. A lot of gazillion-dollar specialized software works on XP and (gag) IE8. Right here in River City – Cone Health, I believe, requires IE8. If I spent $1M on software, I’d DEMAND an upgrade. It’s not like they didn’t know this XP thing was happening.

    Comment by Sue — Sunday, April 13, 2014 6:39 pm @ 6:39 pm | Reply

  4. To clarify, Sue, you mean Cone should demand an update? And an update of what, IE? (I’m slow this evening.)

    Update of my own: My wife has suggested that I take this opportunity to make a Linux box, and I think I’m going to do that. I want/need the experience, it’ll keep the machine safely ‘Net-usable a while longer so it’ll be more educationally useful to my kids, and it’ll still get donated to HandyCapable eventually anyway.

    Comment by Lex — Sunday, April 13, 2014 6:43 pm @ 6:43 pm | Reply

    • Businesses have specialized software, like law firms and hospitals. They pay a fortune for it. If I paid that much (and I’ve paid a lot), I can’t comprehend NOT having upgrades as Windows upgrades. But banks and hospitals must not be demanding it or providers would have to issue upgrades that work on newer OS. (Am not singling out Cone Health; there are dozens of examples of this.)

      Comment by Sue — Sunday, April 13, 2014 6:46 pm @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  5. Ah. Thanks for the clarification.

    I can’t speak for banks (and if 95% of ATMs run on XP still, they should be damned grateful I can’t), but I know that in health care a major obstacle is the time it takes to get new versions of apps approved by the FDA. Apparently a lot of apps that run on XP have Win7 or Win8 versions now that the FDA hasn’t signed off on yet. And while “discretionary funding” priorities like the FDA have been gutted the past 15 years or so, I lay this one squarely on Microsoft. If it knows its customers, then it ought to know that hospitals, etc., can’t just move all their apps from one OS platform to another with just eight months’ notice.

    Comment by Lex — Sunday, April 13, 2014 11:33 pm @ 11:33 pm | Reply


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