What to do if you’re a charity stuck on Windows XP

If you’re a charity still running Windows XP, hopefully you’re spooked about Microsoft pulling the plug on XP in April 2014. If you aren’t, get spooked, because you’ll be sitting on a major security vulnerability.

The question is what to do. You do have a few options.

The old rule of thumb was that anything that could run XP acceptably can run Windows 7 (or, by extension, Windows 8.1) acceptably. That said, my rule of thumb is that you want a minimum of a dual-core CPU and 2 GB of RAM to run a newer version of Windows, and it would be a lot better if you had 4. Then you could go 64-bit, which has security benefits.

Hardware is cheap. You can get a Celeron 847-based motherboard for less than $70, including the CPU. Add some memory, which would run another $30-$40 for 4 GB, and you can swap it in for the motherboard in an existing system, reusing its case, power supply, and hard drive. While it won’t be a barn burner, it will run current versions of Windows acceptably.

The problem with that, until now, was that the copy of Windows cost more than the hardware.

But if you’re a charity, Microsoft will give you Windows 8.1 and Office 365 licenses now.

Now, Office 365 is a cloud-based service. If you’re nervous about that, you can run Libre Office and use it to open all your legacy Microsoft Office 2003 and earlier documents. The change from Office 2003 to Libre Office is less jarring than the change to Office 365 will be.

What if the change to Windows 8.1 is too jarring? Well, there’s Linux. Ubuntu Linux runs Libre Office just fine, and the combination will open your existing documents, probably with fewer issues than you’d have with Windows 8.1 and Office 365. Ubuntu is free, and stable, and surprisingly user friendly. It’s at the point where it’s a viable option for everyday computing–no harder to use than a Windows PC or a Mac.

The important thing is to know you have options, but you have to do something. The last thing a charity needs is a security time bomb that distracts from its mission of helping people.

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