Death of Windows XP? (Part 5)

Windows XP, the operating system that simply refuses to die. The title of this post should tell you that there have been four other posts (actually a lot more than that) on the death of Windows XP. The last post was on 30 May 2014, Death of Windows XP? (Part 4). I promised then that it would be my last post, but that’s before I knew that Windows XP would still command between 10 percent and 15 percent market share—placing it above the Mac’s OS X. In fact, according to some sources, Windows XP has greater market share than Windows 8.1 as well. So it doesn’t surprise me that a few of you are still looking for Windows XP support from me. Unfortunately, I no longer have a Windows XP setup to support you, so I’m not answering Windows XP questions any longer.

Apparently, offering Windows XP support is big business. According to a recent ComputerWorld article, the US Navy is willing to pony up $30.8 million for Microsoft’s continued support of Windows XP. Perhaps I ought to reconsider and offer paid support after all. There are many other organizations that rely on Windows XP and some may shock you. For example, the next time you stop in front of an ATM, consider the fact that 95 percent of them still run Windows XP. In both cases, the vendors are paying Microsoft to continue providing updates to ensure the aging operating system remains secure. However, I’m almost certain that even with security updates, hackers have figured out ways to get past the Windows XP defenses a long time ago. For example, even with fixes in place, it’s quite easy to find headlines such as, “Hackers stole from 100 banks and rigged ATMs to spew cash.”

What worries me more than anything else is that there are a lot of home users out there who haven’t patched their Windows XP installation in a really long time now. Their systems must be hotbeds of viruses, adware, and Trojans. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that every one of them is a zombie spewing out all sorts of garbage. It’s time to put this aging operating system out of its misery. If you have a copy of Windows XP, please don’t contact me about it—get rid of it and get something newer. Let me know your thoughts on ancient operating systems at [email protected].


Retiring Windows XP

A number of readers have written me recently to ask about Windows XP and its impending retirement. The same questions occurred when Microsoft decided to retire Windows 98 and many of the same conditions remain true. Whether you have a good personal reason to switch or not depends on what you’re doing with your computers. I imagine a lot of people are still running Windows XP because it continues to meet their needs. After all, one of the older versions of Office probably works fine for most home users (truth be told, I don’t use the vast majority of the new features in Office myself). Your games will continue to run, just as they always have. If the system is meeting your personal needs, there probably isn’t a good reason to upgrade it from a personal perspective.

That said, mainstream support for Windows XP ended April 14, 2009 and extended support will end on April 8, 2014. From a management perspective, Windows XP is becoming a liability in some situations. You’re already not getting any sort of bug updates for Windows XP.  When extended (paid) support ends, you won’t get any security fixes either. That could be a problem if your systems are attached to the Internet and someone finds a way to exploit the security problems in Windows XP (and believe me, they will). Let’s just say you want to have a newer OS in place before the support situation gets too bad if you’re planning to remain connected to the Internet.

Nothing says that you ever have to upgrade if you don’t want to. I still run a copy of Windows 98 for some older applications I have and love. That system has no connections to anything else—it’s a standalone system and there is no chance whatsoever of contamination from it. I don’t care about upgrades because I’m not running any new software on it. Basically, it’s a working museum piece. So, if you’re willing to use these older operating systems in a safe environment—go for it, but I wouldn’t recommend continuing to use Windows XP for much longer on a system connected to the Internet—time for an upgrade.

The other problem you’ll eventually encounter is hardware-related. I currently have three machine’s worth of spare parts for my Windows 98 museum piece. As long as I have spare parts, I can continue running that system and enjoying my old software on it, but there is going to come a time when the spares run out. At that point, using a new part in the old system doesn’t make sense. For one thing, the new part may not run at all because I won’t have drivers for it. In fact, the old motherboard may not even provide connectors for it. So, you may eventually have a need to upgrade your system simply because you no longer have working parts for the old one.

After I share my views on Windows XP, the next question that readers are asking is which operating system I recommend as an upgrade. My personal preference now is Windows 7 because it seems to be stable and offers improved security over Windows XP, without some of the issues presented by Windows Vista. I haven’t worked enough yet with Windows 8 to recommend it, but I feel that the new Metro Interface is likely to cause problems for people who have worked with Windows XP for a long time. The Windows 7 interface changes will be enough of a shock.

For me, the bottom line is that you’ll have to retire Windows XP eventually. Whether you retire it now or wait until later is up to you, but eventually you won’t have the hardware required to make the operating system perform well anymore. I ran into this problem at one point with Windows 3.1 and had to stop supporting any books that relied on that operating system. (As an interesting side note, I do maintain a DOS system and haven’t encountered any hardware so far that won’t run the ancient operating system.) I imagine that my Windows 98 museum piece will eventually fail too, never to rise again. If you truly enjoy using Windows XP, you shouldn’t let Microsoft dictate an upgrade to you. Then again, you have to consider the risks and eventual loss of ability to run the operating system. Let me know your thoughts about running museum piece systems at [email protected].


Accessibility on Windows 8 Metro

Anyone who reads my books knows that accessibility is a major concern for me because I see computers as a means for leveling the playing field for those who have special needs. In fact, my desire to make things as accessible as possible is the reason for writing Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements. Microsoft has always made a strong effort to keep Windows and its attendant applications accessible—at least, to a point. You still need a third party application such as JAWS to make Windows truly accessible (the application developer must also cooperate in this effort as described in my many programming books). Naturally, I’ve been curious about how the Metro interface will affect accessibility.

Here is the problem. The most accessible operating system that Microsoft ever created was DOS. That’s right—the non-graphic, single tasking operating system is a perfect match for those who have special needs precisely because it doesn’t have any bells or whistles to speak of. Screen readers have no problem working with DOS and it’s actually possible to use a considerable number of assistive aids with DOS because it requires nothing more than text support. Of all the the graphical environments that Microsoft has produced, I’ve personally found the combination of Windows XP and Office 2003 to be the most accessible and feature rich. The introduction of the Ribbon with Office 2007 actually reduces accessibility. If you have trouble seeing all of those fancy icons and the odd layout of the Ribbon, you’re not going to enjoy working with the Ribbon.

I installed and tried the developer version of Windows 8 to test it for accessibility. Now, it’s a pre-beta product and there aren’t any Windows 8 products out for applications such as JAWS, so I have to emphasize that I didn’t test under the best of conditions. In fact, you could say that my test was unfair. That said, I did want to see how bad things actually are. Let me say that JAWS works acceptably, but not great, with the classic interface. It doesn’t work at all with the new Metro interface (at least, I couldn’t get it to work). So, unless you’re willing to trust Microsoft completely, you’re out of luck if you have a visual need at the moment. Things will improve, that much is certain, but it’s important to keep a careful eye on how Windows 8 progresses in this area.

The new version of Narrator
does come with some new features. Some of the features may seem like
glitz at first, but they’re really important. For example, the ability
to speed the voice up or slow it down, and the ability to use different
voices, helps with cognition. A more obvious improvement is the ability
to use different commands with Narrator. Narrator will also work with
Web pages now as long as you’re willing to use Internet Explorer as your

It’s with this in mind that I read the post about Windows 8 accessibility entitled, “Enabling Accessibility.” Let me be up front and say that accessibility is an important issue to Microsoft—at least, it has been in the past. According to this post, 15% of the people using computers worldwide have accessibility needs. The more important piece of information is that the number of people with accessibility needs is going to increase because the population is aging and things such as eyesight deteriorate as we get older.

From what I garnered from the post, developers are going to have to jump through an entirely new set of hoops to make their applications accessible in Windows 8. Some developers already have problems making their applications accessible and some simply don’t care to make their applications accessible. If you fall into the former category, you can read my A Visual Studio Quick Guide to Accessibility (Part 1) and A Visual Studio Quick Guide to Accessibility (Part 2) posts in addition to reading my books. If you fall into the latter category, you’re going to find it harder to support users in the future and will definitely see reduced sales because the number of people with accessibility needs is increasing.

Microsoft is improving the Assistive Technologies (ATs) it provides with Windows in order to meet new accessibility requirements. However, my experience with these ATs is that they help people with minor problems, not someone who has a major issue. Even the author of the blog post acknowledges this deficiency in Microsoft’s support. So, if you really do need to use an eye gaze system to work with Windows, you’re going to have to wait for an update to your software before you can use Windows 8 and that update will be longer in coming due to the Metro interface with all the new hoops it introduces.

Part of the new developer interface revolves around the enhanced experience that a combination of HTML 5 and XAML provide. In addition, Windows 8 will require developers to use the new Web Accessibility Initiative-Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) standard. The plus side of the change is that it does adhere to standards that other platforms will use—the minus side is that developers will have to learn yet another programming paradigm. If you want a quick overview of how this will actually work, check out, “Accessible Web 2.0 Applications with WAI-ARIA.” The quick take is that, despite Microsoft’s claims to the contrary, developers will need to do more now than simply fill in a few properties in their applications to make the application accessible. You’ll actually have to code the accessibility information directly into the HTML tags.

The post provided by Microsoft on Windows 8 accessibility support leaves out a few unpleasant details. For example, it gives the impression that your Visual Studio Express 2010 application is accessibility ready right from the start. That’s true to an extent. However, the author leaves out important details such as providing speed keys for users who need them (the requirement does appear in a bullet list; how Windows 8 will help you implement them isn’t). The current templates don’t provide for this need and the Metro interface will make it harder to add them.

One of the most positive changes is that Microsoft is going to test Metro applications for accessibility. If the application meets the baseline (read minimal) requirements, the developer will be able to market it as accessible. At least those with special needs will be able to find software that meets a minimal level of accessibility. However, that minimal level still might not fulfill every Section 508 requirement (something that companies commonly sidestep as being inconvenient). In fact, I’m willing to go out on a limb here and state that minimal is probably not going to be enough to help many of the people with accessibility needs. You’ll be able to support JAWS at a basic level, but more complex software and setups will require additional help from developers.

One of the things you should keep in mind is that Microsoft is proactive to an extent about accessibility. They even provide a special Microsoft Accessibility site to provide updates about their strategy. However, I’ve been finding myself tested with their direction as of late. The interfaces they’re putting together seem less accessible all the time. I’d love to get input from anyone who uses their tools daily to meet specific needs. Talk to me about accessibility requirements, especially those needed to make Metro usable, at [email protected].


New RecImg Utility in Windows 8

Microsoft is constantly changing the command line, which is why books such as Windows Command-Line Administration Instant Reference get outdated. Every new version of Windows comes with new command line utilities. In most cases, these new utilities support new Windows features or allow some new level of maintenance or administration. The RecImg utility creates an image of the Windows 8 installation, including installed applications, to the location you specify. The purpose of this image is to allow a refresh of the Windows installation should something happen to it. A refresh installs a new copy of Windows, but preserves the data and application setup. In many respects, this feature sounds like a simplified version of products such as Norton Ghost. You can read about this new refresh functionality in the Refresh and reset your PC post on the Building Windows 8 site.

I find this new feature exciting because it provides the means for someone like me to recover a hard drive even if I have to support several configurations for a book. It should be possible to create as many images as needed and know that Windows will support them because the feature is built into the operating system. The basic command line for working with this utility is:

RecImg -CreateImage Location

where Location is the directory you want to use for the Windows image. As with any Windows 8 feature, the current version of the utility has problems that you can read about on the Computer Performance site. I’m assuming at this point that the utility will include additional command line switches. Otherwise, Microsoft wouldn’t have included a specific -CreateImage command line switch. Of course, the presence of this new utility means that administrators can perform image updates from a batch file or as part of automated maintenance.

I’ll keep you posted on this, and other, Windows 8 utilities as I have time to review and study them. In the meantime, let me know if you hear anything about interesting new Windows 8 utilities and utility changes. Also let me know if you hear about any utilities that Microsoft decides not to support. Often, you find out about these changes only after you’ve tried to use it in a batch file.

What is your take on this new Windows 8 feature? Let me know at [email protected].