From Windows XP to Linux? -- you'd have to be mad!
It has been suggested that the people who are still hanging onto Windows XP after all of these years are going to continue to do so once support officially ends in April. Microsoft is obviously keen to herd people towards Windows 8.1, but there is a good deal of resistance. Some have proposed Linux as a viable alternative; to me, this seems like a completely nonsensical "upgrade" path. Brian managed to cause quite some excitement yesterday when he wrote that Windows XP refugees should migrate towards Linux rather than considering the latest version of Windows. Without wanting to fall out with Brian, I think he's plain wrong.
One of the reasons many people cite for not wanting to upgrade to Windows 8 or 8.1 is that they don’t want to have to deal with the Start screen. They have become used to things working in a certain way and, while not perhaps entirely resistant to change, need a little encouragement into seeing the value of things. Brian suggests that one of the reasons to switch to Linux is that "you get to learn something new." If this is supposed to be an attractive element of Linux, then users may as well spend the time getting used to Windows 8.1.
Sure, there are plenty of differences between Windows 8.1 and XP, but at its heart it is still the same version of Windows we have known for years. There are a few new techniques and features, but for the most part everything works as you would expect it to and can be found where you would expect. The same certainly cannot be said of Linux. That's not to say that the likes of Ubuntu are impenetrable -- far from it -- but for those uncomfortable with change for whatever reason, there's certainly a steeper learning curve to navigate for Linux than Windows 8.1.
Brian suggests that one of the perceived stumbling blocks for moving to Linux is a lack of software. He goes on to describe the various alternatives to commonly used apps. But this is the problem. Someone who has stuck with Windows XP for more than a decade, probably using Office XP as well, isn’t going to want to have to learn how the likes of LibreOffice operate. Learn a new operating system and relearn how to use all of your apps? Is this likely to appeal to the average home user? I'm familiar with various Linux distros, but when it comes to helping out my mum over the phone, I know it would be a heck of a lot easier telling her how to do things in the slightly unfamiliar environment of Windows 8.1 than the completely alien territory of Linux. Put simply, Linux would scare my mother -- and I don’t think she's alone.
The low system requirements of Linux are often cited as a great bonus. In fact, there isn’t that great a difference between Windows and Linux here. The requirements for Ubuntu are a 700MHz CPU and 512MB RAM. Windows 8.1 requires a 1GHz processor and 1GB RAM. Hardly a massive difference. It has even been suggested that when Update 1 is released for Windows 8.1, system requirements will be even lower. OK, you're not going to be fully at full pelt on these sorts of machines, but if you're the type of person still hanging onto Windows XP, you're probably not on the cutting edge of technology running the most demanding software anyway.
Something that is swept under the carpet is that fact that Linux often just doesn't play nicely with some hardware. This is something I know from personal experience! If you can't get a key piece of hardware to work, Linux is not going to be for you.
Of course there will be some people who do have an ancient computer that is simply not up to the task of running Windows 8.1. This is to be expected. Things do not last forever. The computer you spent however many hundred dollars on back in the 90s is no more invincible than any other piece of electronic equipment. Ultimately your old CRT TV died -- or will die. If you want to continue to watch TV, a new one will be required and it will have to be a flatscreen. Things move forward. Things change. That's just the way it is. Yes, it's going to upset some people, but the march of progress always leaves a few casualties in its wake.
In all of the debate, it is easy to forget one thing. You could just stick with Windows XP. Computers around the world aren't going to suddenly explode and become unusable in April. My suggestion is if you can, upgrade to Windows 8.1. This might mean parting with a little cash to get a new computer, but it is possible to pick up something halfway decent for very, very little these days. If you simply can't bring yourself to do this, or really can't afford to, just don’t worry about it. Keep using XP. You'll be fine.