New machine for the family

Just had an interesting discussion which I thought I’d bring up here, to see what others think. My mum’s aunt read an article about how Vista goes out of support in a couple of months, and got (justifiably) worried, since her 2008-era laptop is running it. So she asked my mum and my mum asked me, what should she do? As background, she’s not tech literate; uses the laptop to browse the web, buy things on Amazon, read emails, store photos, burn CDs of photos as backup. She doesn’t have a great deal of money. I gave the following breakdown of options:

  1. upgrade it to Windows 7 herself. Advantage: cheap (~£20). Disadvantage: difficult; if anything at all goes wrong she’ll have no idea how to fix it and she won’t have a laptop.
  2. pay a bloke in a computer shop to upgrade it to Windows 7. ~£100, which is a lot considering it only buys her three more years.
  3. sit tight and hope nothing goes wrong, i.e., don’t upgrade. This is doable, and likely to not be a HUGE problem – she uses either Chrome or Firefox as browser and gmail as mail, so she’s not using IE and Outlook here and therefore chances of it all breaking on end-of-support day are minimal, and future security problems are unlikely to affect her much because Chrome/FF are not tied to the MS support cycle. But This Is Nonetheless A Sign To Think About Upgrading, in my opinion.
  4. buy a Chromebook. Advantage: cheapish considering you get new hardware out of it (~£180). Disadvantage: #include <std_chromebook_disadvantages.h>, plus it’s not what she’s used to.
  5. buy an Android tablet. Advantage: cheap considering you get new hardware (£100). Disadvantage: not what she’s used to, likely to become obsolete much quicker than a new laptop will (will it still be useful in 8 years? Doubt it.)
  6. buy a new Windows 10 laptop. (Nowhere seems to sell W8.) Advantage: what she’s used to. Disadvantages: only what she’s used to if she turns off all the fullscreen tablet Windows Phone stuff; expensive (~£250); stays shackled to the Man
  7. Install Ubuntu herself on existing laptop. Not on my recommendations list at all, partially because there’s no way she’d be able to do it (installing might be OK but transferring all existing data photos etc isn’t) and partially because even lightweight Ubuntus will run like death on such a machine unless she’s Lubuntu or something and then she won’t get how to use it.
  8. Buy new laptop with Linux on it. Hard to do in the UK – you have to buy online, which means “bundle it up at your own expense and send it back if it goes wrong” if you buy a cheap one; also, not any cheaper than buying a bargain bucket Windows laptop at PC World.
  9. Apple stuff (iPad and Macbook) were not on the list either, partially because of high expense and partially because she’s used her son’s iPad and was extremely confused by it but has used my mum’s Samsung tablet and was much happier with that, she says. (Which was interesting.)

So I said: get her to go into a shop and try out an Android tablet, a Chromebook, and a Windows 10 laptop, eliminate from the list any that she doesn’t get on with, and then buy the cheapest of the three that remains.

I’d be interested in any other thoughts people might have.

I’m assuming here that your mum’s aunt is not geographically close to you so Stuart upgrading the machine for her is not an option.

I’d never recommend anybody uses an unsupported OS. I’m sure something like Lubuntu can do everything she needs but Windows 7 will feel a lot closer to to what she is used to and if you are not going to be around to give her support if things go wrong I’d definitely recommend Windows 7 For what she doing the hardware should be OK. A later version of Windows may struggle so would require new hardware which I don’t think she needs. Installing any OS is not trivial, if you want to keep your old data - which she obviously does, and while I am sure most of us here can upgrade an OS without too many problems I have seen to many support questions on Ask Ubuntu, Launchpad and the Ubuntu forums saying “I’ve upgraded but lost all my data - help!”

The problem with new hardware whatever OS it uses is that she may want to transfer old e-mails, she will want to transfer photographs and unless Stuart is in a position to do this, or she knows somebody else nearby who will do this for her as a favour, this will be an additional cost.

Personally I hate Windows 10, you can make it feel more like Vista / Windows 7 if you know how to tweak it but as you have said she is not tech literate. My hate of Windows 10 is purely personal, because it feels too different from anything I have used before, It doesn’t mean it’s bad - lots of people are happy with it.

I’d rule out a tablet since she wants to backup photos to CD and I am not aware of any tablet with CD built in.

I do enjoy, (really, really enjoy) my Chromebook, but I understand that it cannot be used to burn cd’s. Your aunt would be limited to backing up her photos to the cloud. Other than that, it’s all in the browser, although Android apps are now available.

I also have a Vista era laptop. I’m running Manjaro on it and it does just fine. But, I certainly would not recommend it to someone who isn’t able to get online to have help figuring out how to do things, like connecting a printer.

As far as Vista going out of support, we have a XP machine still going at work with no issues. I think that the biggest concern is keeping the anti-virus software up to date. I haven’t heard of any big issues among those who still have XP machines running.

I would think that if she keeps her data backed up, which she should be doing anyway, then worry about a new machine when it is apparent that it is a necessity, especially since her financial resources are limited.

Or, she could say “you are such a dear, Stuart” when her great-nephew brings her a shiny new laptop and sets it up for her! :smile:

Anything running Windows XP or Vista should be destroyed by fire. Immediately. Context: Windows XP was released the same year as Red Hat 7.2. Not RHEL, but the original Red Hat Linux.

Burn it. Burn it now.


Windows 8 isn’t purchasable any more because it was replaced by Windows 8.1. Windows 8.1 isn’t purchasable any more because it was replaced by Windows 10.

Windows Store apps running fullscreen hasn’t been a thing since Windows 10 came out.

I don’t see the point in buying anything running Windows 7 or upgrading to Windows 7. It’ll be EOL in under 3 years, whereas you can probably guarantee more life than that from a new laptop running Windows 10.

HP and Lenovo make reasonably-spec’d mid-range laptops which have decent build quality. If your aunt can spend a little bit extra, a Lenovo IdeaPad 110 is probably ideal. It has a decent sized screen, good amount of RAM and storage, a Pentium will perform better than the Atom or Celeron you’ll get in a lower-priced machine, it has a built-in DVD drive so her backups won’t become landfill (but teach her about Dropbox), and PC World do sales aaaaaaall the fucking time. Install Chrome and set it as default instead of Edge, and she’ll be sorted.

And if she doesn’t have resources to purchase a new machine? Your argument is a bit specious. Should the guy with the 1960’s Volvo with over 3 million miles not have driven because it lacked airbags and an entertainment system with video back-up? Should the company that still uses a punch card computer for payroll chuck it because it cannot access youtube? I’m all for using old equipment as long as it is practical to do so. Some of the best machinery I use are of WW2 vintage. Lots of good iron in those. The newest cnc I run uses DOS. If her Vista machine proves to be a liability, and that would mostly be of not updating security software, then it’s time for something new. Or if Chrome/Firefox stops supporting XP/Vista, then it’s time to move on. Until then, why strain her resources if, for now, it’s really not necessary? As I often say, we’ll burn that bridge when we get there.

Airbags provide safety, so driving a car without them is a risk. The cost of ownership of a car that’s done 3 million miles will probably be eye watering, and for day to day use, something more modern will be more reliable, more secure, and cheaper to operate.

As company using a punch card computer to do payroll probably should have it chucked, given the opex to maintain such a thing likely exceeds the capex required to just buy a Dell Optiplex running Windows and Quicken.

I was giving a practical, real world recommendation as asked by aq for someone who is described as Not Technical, based on my 24 years experience of running, owning, deploying and maintaining Windows on a wide tranche of hardware. A new laptop provides fresh hardware (including more efficient parts and a battery that will definitely kick Mr. 8 Year Old Battery’s ass), manufacturers and statutory warranty, and a modern, up-to-date OS provides longevity and regular updates, and a budget was mentioned (but not defined), which is why I didn’t recommend a MacBook Pro or a top end Yoga.

If you want to give a Not Technical person a CNC lathe running DOS so they can read their mail, be my guest. But if you’re still running Vista on Vista-era hardware, it’s time to burn those bridges.

Vista is EOL on the 11th of April (hence the conversation), so yeah, it’ll very soon be a liability.

You are correct that the amount of money spent on that man’s Volvo would be great, but far less than the 20 or more cars, bought from new, would be to drive that many miles. The more mileage one can get out of a vehicle, the less cost per mile it is. But, should there be a head on collision, it would be, as the doctor said when I was born, not going to be pretty.

You have been doing IT with Windows since Windows 95? You poor man!

My concern is her financial situation. I don’t buy into the ‘gotta get a new machine because of EOL’ in her situation. In other situations, I would also recommend replacement. The odds of her having a hardware failure far exceeds that of having issues because of EOL. However, if EOL is going to cause her some anxiety, then it maybe better to part with the funds. I think your recommendations as to what to get, should she decide to do so, is spot on.

I ask you, since you are working in the field and I have been trying to research the subject, has there been any significant issues with XP since EOL? There should be some data on that since there is still not a few XP machines out there, though that number is shrinking, thankfully.

I can just imagine my boss asking just what the heck am I doing, typing away on the cnc trying to send an email! :smile:

Buying the Windows 7 upgrade would be best and cheapest option if there’s nothing wrong with the hardware and it meets the minimum system requirements. But letting her pick out the one she likes best from an Android/Chromebook/Windows lineup is a good idea too. If she’s comfortable in Google’s ecosystem and possibly willing to give up burning photos to CDs and use Gdrive, I think the Chromebook would be an excellent choice.

You’re of the opinion that an entirely untechnical user can purchase an online update (I imagine a boxed CD would cost more) from Windows Vista to Windows 7 and apply that update without getting anything wrong and without losing any data? That’s good work by Microsoft if that’s the case, and I have not tried this process, but a priori I’m extremely sceptical; that’s why I didn’t recommend it.

You could, using the Upgrade Advisor tool from Microsoft. But it won’t work now, since you can’t purchase Windows 7 from Microsoft any more, either in electronic or physical form. Buying an authentic copy of Windows 7 Home Premium from reliable commercial sources is becoming more and more difficult, but if you don’t mind spending about £130, you can still buy Windows 7 Professional media from various places (e.g. Ebuyer).

I don’t recommend that, however, as per my comments passim.

It would have worked years ago, but not now. Also, you can’t upgrade directly from Vista to Windows 10, as the upgrade track to 10 requires Windows 7, 8, or 8.1.

My point was more that you’re citing an edge case to defend your argument, and I’m not sure comparisons with other types of products are fair.

There probably are still people out there using ancient PC and Mac hardware to do their day to day shenanigans, but as more and more of life depends on being online, using modern hardware and software reduces the friction of that dependency by large amounts.

Windows for Workgroups 3.11 and Windows NT 3.51, actually.

I agree that financial concerns are important, but again, since no budget was cited, I simply steered away from premium offerings due to cost, and budget offerings due to performance concerns. There’s nothing worse thinking you’ve gotten a bargain and then being disappointed with the purchase because the computer underperforms in almost every way (slow CPU (e.g. Atom, Celeron, AMD APUs) and storage (i.e. eMMC rather than SSD) coupled with low RAM will make any version of Windows from the last 10 years sluggish, small storage provision will reduce capability, small low-resolution screen will cause problems, etc).

I’m personally unaware of significant issues, but that’s not what’s at stake here. Using XP-era hardware with the XP OS can lead to a myriad of potential problems, most notably the lack of security updates, but also things like shrinking driver support for newer accessories (your new printer doesn’t work? Awwwwwww) and recovery liabilities (how can you rebuild your computer to working order from your install media when you can’t download any updates to your drivers or system files?).

If we do want to keep going down the car comparison route, when the manufacturer (software vendor) issues a product recall due to a fault (software patch to correct security failure), do you just ignore it? No, because you want to be safe, so you return your car for repair under the terms of the recall (install the software patch to correct the vulnerability). When the manufacturer decides it’s time to no longer manufacture parts or issue recalls because the model is too old and thus not economically viable to support (software is too old and has been replaced several times by newer versions), and a critical fault is discovered in the entire model range of that age, do you just keep plugging along hoping you won’t crash due to that fault, potentially injuring others?

Granted, the physical risks of an XP machine becoming part of a botnet are not even in the same league as a car careening out of control, but why take the risk?

It’s the same with Vista, and in 3 years time it will be the same with Windows 7. Personally, I always try to approach technology purchases with future proofing in mind. I can either purchase something now on the cheap which I may need to invest further in down the line to keep the system functional, or I can invest a smaller amount on top to get something that carries less risk of being obsoleted sooner.

In addition, Windows 10 has been unanimously hailed as Microsoft’s best operating system. I know those inside the FOSS bubble don’t get much exposure to Windows, either through circumstance or by choice, but it is impressive. It is performant, reliable and useful. Why select an operating system that will never receive a fundamental update ever again when a newer one is available that is still inside a featureset upgrade cycle, ensuring it will become more useful as time progresses?

As an Ubuntu user at home I don’t have much experience installing or upgrading Windows except my laptop at work, but I believe Microsoft offer an “in place” upgrade over a an existing copy of Windows (though after reading @neuro’s comments downloading Windows 7 isn’t an option anymore). Obviously you’d want to backup all important data first before upgrading any OS just in case, but you’d still have to copy all data anyway if buying new hardware.

The reason I suggested staying with Windows 7 was to minimize change, which is important for non-technical people so they can just continue doing things the way they’ve always done without having to relearn. To echo what @oldgeek said earlier, if the hardware is still in working order why throw it out?

So given the limited (non)availability of Windows 7 and the age of Vista new hardware may be the best option especially if this is to last longer than 3 years. And that way you know you are getting an OS that works with the machine. So here’s my revised recommendations from most familiar/comfortable to most exotic from a non-technical user’s perspective.

Windows 10 laptop

It'll work just like any other version of Windows and she can continue doing things the way she has been.


An excellent option for non-technical users who don't use many Windows apps besides a web browser, but only if she's willing to compromise on CD burning and use cloud storage instead.

Android tablet

Adding a tablet to the home as a leisure and entertainment device is one thing, but as a laptop replacement I'm on the fence. There may be use cases where it can work, but a tablet is sufficiently different from a laptop she definitely needs hands on experience with one to know if it will meet her needs.

Changing to Windows 10 from Windows 7 is not quite the shock that changing to Windows 8 or 8.1 was. The basic look-and-feel still remains the same: Start menu in the bottom left, window controls at top right of each window, Metro/Store apps operating in windowed mode by default, etc. There are a few things to have to deal with when switching to Windows 10, but they are not that onerous, and only have to be performed once on first boot. Beyond that, you’re just talking about muscle memory. My dad and I upgraded my mother’s laptop from 7 to 10 last summer, and she adjusted in a matter of days.

There are varying values of “working order”. While the computer may still boot, run applications and process information, whether it does that in a safe, efficient and secure manner or not is paramount. Upgrading to Windows 7 will only be a stopgap for 3 years, then the operating system will become EOL again, and there will be a worse discussion with regards to upgrading, because a software-only upgrade will likely become impossible. Purchasing hardware certified to run Windows 10 reduces the obsolescence potential, and increases the likelihood that the replacement machine will run for another 8 years, especially in the face of Microsoft stating that Windows 10 is going to receive regular feature updates, and that it will not go EOL before October 2025 at the earliest.

New hardware offers various benefits, such as longer battery life, more reliable and more power efficient components, more performant components leading to faster operation, and so on.

Again, computers and computer-like devices are different from older generations of consumer products. If it’s still fully functional, there’s normally no need to dispose of a fridge, or a hammer, or a desk, if those things still work as expected. When a computer’s hardware becomes obsolete, and the software running on it becomes EOL, the utility will steadily decrease, and the friction of usage will steadily increase. In addition, and I’m going to keep hammering home this point, it will become more and more susceptible to a security exploit, especially if it is always connected to the Internet while powered on. The risk is massively mitigated with newer hardware and newer software. Until someone can figure out how to make software unbreakable from exploits, and how to make hardware upgradeable without having to replace any components, it’s an unfortunate fact of the connected technological world that we live in that computers eventually become obsolete, and have to be replaced, especially in the consumer, non-technical user realm.

Getting use out of a computer for 9 years isn’t too shabby. Getting use out of another computer for another 9 sounds not too bad either.

Sorry, I missed this part of your post. As per my comments above, it was possible to do an online in-place upgrade from Vista to 7, but this is no longer possible. An in-place upgrade option to 8 through 10 is also not possible, as an upgrade from Vista to anything but 7 has never been possible. The only legal options now are to either purchase Windows 7 Professional install media and do an inplace upgrade, or wipe the machine and do a fresh install of Windows 10. I don’t recommend the former due to concerns passim, and I don’t recommend the latter, since a 2008 laptop probably won’t be fully supported by Windows 10.

So, do you dream of the good old days when BSOD was a common friendly visitor? Or having to keep three fingers limber for ctl-alt-del? :smile: Have you heard the story of the guy that coded the ctrl-alt-del? He told at a conference with Mr. Gates there. That was funny!

I guess I’m just too focused on the money having gone through hard times myself. You have been rightly emphasizing potential while I’ve been focusing on probability. Potential should take precedence over probability almost always. To make a simple automobile comparison would be, what if one found his seat belt was broken? The chances are slim that one would be involved in a crash. But you wear a belt, not because of probability, but because of potential. However, I would be fine driving a few miles without the seat belt to get it repaired, but not fine driving that way otherwise. I’m not young and invincible anymore!

I’m coming to agree that, even though the probability is slim that there will be issues in keeping her Vista machine for an extended time, it would be best to replace it. However, if it would take some time to save up for said replacement, there shouldn’t be too much to worry about. Just be sure to get it done as soon as it is practical.

I’ve been using Windows 10 for a while now and I like it. I don’t understand the folks that are saying 7 was better.

Right. Ignoring for the moment @neuro’s perfectly valid point that you can’t even do any of this because in-place 7 upgrades are no longer for sale, my point was that Upgrading Is Hard Even For Technical People, backups are hard even for technical people, and I would feel very uneasy asking someone non-technical to do a full upgrade of their OS, unaccompanied. Especially something of that age, which came before the whole “just download it” era and therefore involves putting an actual spinning disc in your machine.

Yes, you need to transfer data when you have two machines, but you have two machines. You can copy the data over by burning CDs of it if you want to, and some people will do exactly that because they understand it. That’s not an option when you upgrade one single machine: if anything goes wrong with the upgrade, you’ll either have a FrankenWindows which is half Vista and half 7, or you’ll have a machine that won’t boot properly; both of these are disastrous. And “you should take backups” is obviously true and equally obviously extremely difficult for people who own one computer and that’s it. Upgrading had one and only one advantage over buying a new machine: it was cheap. It stops being cheap if upgrading has to include “buy a NAS to take backups”. And that’s @oldgeek’s legit point:

because I actually do not know if she has £250 to spend on a laptop. I have recommended that that’s what she does because it’s the best thing for someone in her situation, as we’ve discussed above; I’m waiting to hear if she says no because she doesn’t actually have that much spare money, in which case I get to suggest one of the less good but cheaper suggestions instead.

The thought of a FrankenWindows laptop made me smile :slight_smile:

Just to add my two cents here:

I would not advise her to go for either

  1. Android tablet, because usually obsolete in a year
  2. Chromebook, because very unfamiliar to her and Google is creating a reputation of abandoning hardware/software/ecosystems without any long notice (as much as I love the Chromebook and the ecosystem)

Best options without potential dataloss would be imo

  1. Cheap new Windows laptop
  2. Cheap refurbished ex-corporate Windows laptop, with higher specs (better processor, more ram, potentially upgradebale with an SSD) that could run a more demanding OS in the future, for futureproofness. Hoping the older hardware lasts that long.
  3. Help her (or get someone) to install linux on her laptop, whilst migrating her data to the new OS in some way.

The world is getting more and more complicated for people that are not tech savvy and don’t have loads of cash to burn so they can participate. I hope the nephews, grandchildren and neighbours of this world will always help the ones in need.

There is one definite concern in keeping her Vista machine going, even for a short time. I have been making my ‘probability’ assessment based on an assumption that she has third party security software installed. If she is relying solely on Windows security, then that is a major concern at end of life, like something needs to be done NOW. Installing an antivirus is usually quite easy. I’m not sure if Windows firewall gets updates, but I must assume that it does. Installing a third party firewall may be a harder thing for her.

My thoughts are that if she doesn’t have the funds now, she’s of the generation that is use to having to save up for things. So, keeping her Vista machine going as a temporary measure will help so that maybe she can get a machine that will last another near decade. Even saving up another £50 can make a difference in memory that will extend it’s usefulness.

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