Courtesy of TechWeb When Windows Vista is released, the computing world will change forever, leading to a PC-based Nirvana in which system crashes are a thing of the past, productivity magically skyrockets, and a new era of world peace is ushered in. Bah, humbug! The curmudgeons of this world know that every new operating system brings with it at least much hype as benefits, and more often than not means spending lots of money in pursuit of the ever-elusive goal of making life at the keyboard perfect. And so they'd rather fight than switch. This article is for them--and for anyone who is considering staying with the old standby, XP, rather than switching to Vista. We want to help you get more out of XP as long as it lasts. We'll even show you how to get some of Vista's much-talked-about new features on XP right now. When Will Support For XP End? That depends on what you mean by the word "support" and which version of XP you're using. Microsoft has two kinds of support for operating systems: mainstream and extended. Mainstream support means that Microsoft sends out security updates and non-security hotfixes, adds new features, and offers paid telephone support. Once mainstream support runs out, consumer versions of software are out of luck; however, enterprise-level software gets extended support, which offers a lower level of services. (For example, Microsoft doesn't add new features to an operating system during extended support.) For details, see the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy FAQ. So what does this all mean? Microsoft says it will end support for XP Home Edition two years after the release of Vista. In other words, if Microsoft keeps its planned January 2007 release date for the home editions of Vista, mainstream support for XP will end in January 2009. For Windows XP Professional, mainstream support will end two years after the release date of Vista, but extended support will go on for five more years, which would bring it to the end of 2011 or the beginning of 2012. To find support information for any specific Microsoft operating system or application, check out Microsoft's support lifecycle page. One more thing to keep in mind: if you're using XP Service Pack 1 (SP1), you're almost out of support right now. Microsoft will end support for it on October 10, so you'd better upgrade to SP2 right away. And if you're a die-hard operating system curmudgeon and have an earlier version of Windows, you're really out of luck. Extended support for Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, and Windows Millennium Edition (ME) ended on July 11. How Much Money Can I Save By Not Switching To Vista? For lots of people, money is the big reason to stay with XP rather than switch to Vista. First off, you won't have to buy a new operating system. Pricing for it hasn't yet been set, but figure you'll save somewhere around $100, depending on the Vista version. Next come the hardware savings. Depending on the current state of your hardware, you can save up to several hundred dollars on RAM and a new graphics card by sticking with XP. (Odds are that most people who upgrade to Vista won't have to upgrade their processors--a 1GHz processor should be able to run Vista.) Let's start with RAM. To run Vista at a reasonable level, systems need a minimum of 1 GB of RAM--2 GB would be better. Users who have a single 512MB RAM module can keep what they have and add another 512MB module (for $40 to $45) to get to 1 GB, while those who have two 246MB modules or less will have to throw them out and start from scratch. And those who want to get to 2 GB of RAM will need two 1 GB modules. These days, 1 GB of RAM costs about $80 to $100, and 2 GB double that. If upgraders want to run Vista's Aero Glass interface, they'll need an AGP or PCI Express graphics adapter that supports DirectX 9 with a Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) developed for Vista, and that has 32-bits-per-pixel color depth and at least 128MB of RAM. How much will that cost? There's a tremendous range in the costs of graphics cards, but we're looking at a minimum of about $70. And users who want to make Vista really rock could easily spend an additional several hundred dollars for more memory and faster processing. Vista users will also need a DVD drive to take advantage of Vista's Media Center features. If they don't have one already, they can pick one up for as little as $25 to $50. A DVD burner instead of just a DVD drive will cost anywhere from $90 to $200. So let's total that up: By sticking with XP, you can save $100 on the OS, $40 to $200 on RAM, $70 to $400 on a graphics card, and $25 to $200 for a DVD drive/burner. On the low end, that's $235. On the high end, that's $900. Keeping XP is looking like a smart decision, isn't it? How Cheaply Can I Buy A PC That Will Run XP Well? What if you want to buy a whole new system--but you only want it to run XP, not Vista? Depending on how fast you want it to run, you can get an XP-capable machine dirt cheap. For between $200 and $250 (and often less) on eBay, you'll find used systems with 256MB of RAM, a monitor, a 1GB processor, and about a 40GB hard disk, which is perfectly adequate for running XP. For not much more, you can get 512MB of memory, which is a better bet. If you want to buy a new machine, you can get a cheap PC that will run XP quite well if you shop around a bit. For example, as of this writing, a new Dell Dimension B110 could be had for $379 plus shipping. With a 2.53GHz Celeron processor, 512MB of memory, a 160GB hard disk, a 17-inch monitor, and a CD/DVD burner, it will run XP quite nicely--and XP is included in the price as well. Will New Software Run Under XP? In a word, yes--at least for another few years. It's rare for new software to be targeted only toward a new, just-shipped OS. It's simple economics: Software makers don't want to cut down the size of their potential audience. Even Microsoft follows this rule--Office 2007, for example, slated to ship at about the same time as Vista, will run under XP. And you can bet that if even Microsoft doesn't tie its software to Vista, neither will other developers. That being said, you might miss out on some new Vista-specific features available in new software. For example, Office 2007 includes a common indexing engine with Vista, so searching for Office documents in Vista is better than it is in XP. You also may ultimately face problems because your old hardware isn't powerful enough to support new software, even if XP theoretically can. Because Vista requires more powerful hardware than does XP, new software will eventually be written to that spec, and your old machine may not support the new software unless you give it an overhaul. Will New Hardware Support XP? Hardware makers are already salivating over the thought of a mass Vista upgrade, because so many computers will need new hardware in order to support the new operating system. What if you want some of that cool new hardware, but don't want to upgrade to Vista? Will you be able to get drivers and software to support it? Odds are that XP drivers will be easy to find for any new hardware. That should be the case for at least several years after Vista ships. For example, even the high-end graphics card GeoForce Go 7800 GTX includes drivers for Windows 2000, an operating system that was introduced more than six years ago. The same is often true of network cards, monitors, printers, and most other hardware--they tend to support older operating systems. Given that XP will remain the dominant operating system for several years, you can be assured that most new hardware will support XP in that time frame. Where Can I Get Help With My Old Hardware And Software? One problem you might eventually face after Vista ships is that hardware and software makers may stop supporting old versions of their hardware and software. So if you need to re-install a piece of old hardware, for example, you might find that the manufacturer has stopped hosting downloads of its drivers. Similarly, you may want to find older versions of software because newer versions require a more powerful PC than your own--but software makers usually don't host old downloads on their sites. A couple of sites can help. If you need to find an old driver and can't find it on the manufacturer's site, head to DriverGuide.com, which has a huge database of drivers, firmware, and support documents. There are also useful discussion boards for asking for help with old hardware. Similarly, if it's old versions of software you're after, go to OldVersion.com, which lets you download older versions of popular free software. What Will I Lose By Not Switching To Vista? For now, apps running on the beta of Vista don't run any faster than they do in XP--in fact, they often run more slowly. For example, the first time you save a Microsoft Word document in the Vista beta, it saves excruciatingly slowly. Similarly, searches within Word practically creep along. When Vista ships, that should be solved, but don't expect to see a performance boost, either. However, users with dual-core PCs may notice a performance boost with Vista when they're multitasking, because Vista can take advantage of dual cores to run separate processes, something that XP can't do. So if you have a dual-core PC and you frequently run multiple programs simultaneously, you will lose the performance improvement that Vista can bring. Microsoft also claims that multimedia will run better in Vista than XP because Vista can give streaming audio and video priority over other processes so that they won't be interrupted. We'll have to wait for the shipping version to see whether that's the case. In addition, Vista's Media Center integrates TVs and PCs in a way that XP's Media Center edition doesn't--it makes it easier to watch and record TV shows, and pause live shows, on PCs with TV tuner cards. Finally, if you stick with XP, you'll lose all the new Vista features: better security; a snazzier interface; transparent windows and animations; a sidebar filled with gadgets that do things such as report on your PC performance and stream RSS feeds; and some networking capabilities not present in XP, such as collaboration. Or will you? How Can I Get Vista Features On XP--Today? Vista includes hardened security, including a two-way firewall (XP's is only one-way), built-in anti-spyware and anti-phishing tools, and a safer version of Internet Explorer. You can get the same features for XP, though, without paying a penny: 1. Download the free version of the ZoneAlarm firewall, which offers two-way firewall protection. (There are also for-pay versions of ZoneAlarm that add such features as greater firewall configurability, anti-spyware, virus checking, Registry protection, identity theft protection, and so on. But to match Vista's firewall security, the free version will do.) 2. Windows Defender, Vista's anti-spyware program, can also be downloaded today for free. 3. There are plenty of free anti-phishing tools now available for your browser, including the Netcraft Anti-Phishing Toolbar. 4. As for Internet Explorer, one option is to switch to a safer browser, such as Firefox or Opera. A second option is to download the beta of Internet Explorer 7, which is essentially the same browser that's built into Vista. Note, however, that since it's still in beta, IE7 might be unstable on your system. Finally, you could try a product called GreenBorder Pro, which runs Internet Explorer 6 inside a safe "sandbox" so that malware can't touch your system while you surf.