Saturday 28 April 2018

Firefox is about to stop supporting Windows Vista

Firefox is about to stop supporting Windows Vista and websites are not working. Is there a cheap or preferably free solution?

I read your article about Windows 10 updates and that most PCs with Vista should be tossed in the trash bin. I really don’t want to do that. I bought my computer with a disability settlement, and I simply don’t have the money for upgrades. It is an HP Model m8530f with an AMD Phenom 9550 quad-core processor and 5GB of memory. I use it for writing, blogging, internet access, simple games, nothing intense. But I do need to do something because there is only one web browser I can use effectively, and some websites have begun to shun us unfortunate Vista folks. Please tell me how to do this. I am not stupid or illiterate, just a little on the broke side, and a bit (OK, a lot) of a procrastinator. Jeanne

Microsoft launched Windows Vista in January 2007 and stopped supporting it in April last year. Any PCs still running Vista are therefore likely to be eight to 10 years old, and showing their age. In particular, hard drives are increasingly prone to fail after about five years, or 50,000 hours use, so it’s important to keep good backups.

Vista was a pretty good operating system, at least after Microsoft released the Service Pack 1 update, but very few people still use it. Microsoft has since launched Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and several versions of Windows 10. It’s no longer worth software providers and websites spending money testing and adapting their code to make sure it works with Vista, so you’re likely to face increasing problems using it online.

You are also at a greater risk from malware. Microsoft no longer provides Vista security patches, and has stopped updating Microsoft Security Essentials. You should therefore install antivirus software that still supports Vista, though I’m not sure which still do, apart from Malwarebytes and Comodo. Whatever you have already installed should be OK as long as the supplier keeps updating the virus signatures.

You will also run into more problems with browsers. I assume that the one browser you can use effectively is Firefox. The bad news is that Firefox will stop supporting Windows XP and Vista in June. Mozilla says: “For planning purposes, enterprises using Firefox should consider May 2018 as the support end date for Windows XP and Vista.” You have only a few weeks left.

Hardware matters
The good news is that your 2008-vintage desktop PC looks powerful enough to run Windows 7 or a flavour of Linux. Indeed, according to HP’s spec sheet, you could upgrade your m8530f to use a faster but hotter processor and up to 8GB of memory. I assume you could also upgrade the Nvidia GeForce 9300 GS currently installed, and probably swap your fast 750GB hard drive for a faster SSD. You could even upgrade the 350W power supply to a 550W version.

If your HP m8530f continues to work correctly, you don’t need any of these upgrades. The point is that if it fails, you should be able to replace or upgrade faulty parts without junking the whole machine. This may not even cost very much. People often break up PCs like this and sell the working parts on eBay for “spares or repair”.

The 2.2GHz Phenom X4 9550 has a PassMark benchmark score of 2542, which still qualifies as “mid range”. It’s only about a third of the speed of a current 3.6GHz Intel Core i3-8100 (PassMark 8078), but it’s still faster than the 1.1GHz quad-core Pentium N4200 (PassMark 2022) used in budget laptops like the Asus VivoBook Max.

 ‘I bought my computer with a disability settlement, and I simply don’t have the money for upgrades.’ Photograph: Alamy

Windows upgrades
The bad news is that I don’t think your HP m8530f will run Windows 10. HP says it hasn’t tested products that were bought before August 2013, and it hasn’t written any Windows 10 drivers for them. Windows 10 might still run with the drivers Microsoft supplies, but you’d have to try this yourself, and my web searches didn’t find anybody who’d written it up.

Microsoft doesn’t support an upgrade from Vista to Windows 10. Trying it would involve doing a “clean installation” that deletes your current software and applications. I can’t recommend that unless there’s a good chance of Windows 10 working.

However, you could upgrade to Windows 7. The first and most obvious drawback is that you would have to buy a Windows 7 Upgrade or the full Windows 7 software. (For your purposes, they’re the same thing.) You might be able to pick up a cheap copy locally or from eBay, but it can be hard to identify a reputable seller.

The second and less obvious drawback is that Windows 7 will only be supported until 14 January 2020. However, most businesses still use Windows 7, and I expect that most browser and anti-virus software suppliers will continue to support it after Microsoft support ends. This happened before, with Windows XP.

Note: I don’t recommend upgrading from Vista to Windows 8.1 – which will be supported until January 23 – because that also requires a clean installation.

The Linux option
GNU/Linux is well known for prolonging the life of hardware that is no longer a viable platform for Windows, and it supports all today’s major PC browsers. There are, of course, some drawbacks. The main problem is that Linux doesn’t run Windows software natively, and it doesn’t run programs such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, Apple iTunes, Intuit’s QuickBooks and most major games.

You can run some Windows software on Linux using Wine (originally from Wine Is Not an Emulator), but you may have to give up or replace some programs that are important to you.

The other problem is learning to use Linux. This is not as easy as its fans often claim, especially when something goes wrong. Of course, you would have to relearn some things whether you switched to Windows 10, MacOS or Linux, but Linux has the steepest learning curve.

Fortunately, you don’t have to commit to Linux to try it. You can use your PC to create a “Live CD” (or DVD or USB thumbdrive) that will run Linux without disturbing Vista. There are hundreds of options, but you might try Linux Mint – my usual recommendation for newbies – or Ubuntu Mate or Ubuntu Gnome.

Linux runs relatively slowly from a DVD so use a fast USB thumbdrive if you can. You can create one with a free utility, LinuxLive USB Creator.

If the experiment goes well, you can install Linux alongside Vista in a dual-boot configuration, so that you can load either at will. Lots of websites have step-by-step instructions. Read a few related to the version of Linux you decide to install.

You might also consider installing Ubuntu 18.04, codenamed Bionic Beaver, which is due to be released today. With this version, Ubuntu has returned to the standard Gnome 3 desktop instead of Unity.

Linux tends to change rapidly, but the LTS (Long Term Support) versions – such as Mint 18.3 and Ubuntu 18.04 – are supported for up to five years. After a decade of Vista, you may appreciate the stability.

(Source: The Guardian)

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