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.

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