Three Non-Windows Options for Schools and Districts with Demise of XP Computers

It has been over a year since Microsoft released Windows 8, and I will confess I haven't "upgraded" nor do I own a device using the operating system. My rationale is simple: "Windows 7 wasn't broke and didn't need fixing." At least, I would say that was true for the interface. I have grown accustomed to the start button. I haven't seen a "blue-screen-of-death" or whatever happens with Windows 7 malfunctions in many months. It has been perfectly stable, which is an ENORMOUS selling feature for me. I do not have a touchscreen computer, not do I have plans to purchase one. After all, I have an iPad that gives me all the experience I need with touchscreen applications. There simply has been and continues to be no reason to upgrade to Windows 8.

The whole problem with the Windows 8 upgrade question for me is that it is simply a question of "Does pursuing the latest in my best interests as a user?" The answer to that is a rather obvious "No." One would have thought Microsoft would have learned its lesson about major operating system interface changes back with Windows Me. Take Windows XP for example. There are still many, many computers sitting in our schools and even in our homes using this version of Windows. I, myself, had a Windows XP desktop sitting in my home this week, until it died, not from an operating system failure, but a hardware issue. I simply replaced it with a Windows 7 machine that I had elsewhere. Windows XP has survived because it was stable and it worked well.

I can't help but wonder if Microsoft has lost touch with reality in the operating system market specifically and the technology industry as a whole. At one time, it did drive much of what happened in the software and hardware industry. Programmers and computer designers would roll out new products as Microsoft introduced their latest operating system. That is still somewhat the case, but with Apple's resurrection and the Chromebook market, not to mention an Android and iOS market too, there are more and more options for people rather than a Microsoft Windows machine. Microsoft needs to learn that they are no longer entirely in the driver's seat in the world of software and hardware. They can't roll out new operating systems and expect the world to rush to get the upgrade or purchase a new machine with the new OS on it.

When XP dies later in the spring of this year, schools will be scrambling to do something with a ton of computers who operate very well with XP but lack the hardware capabilities to upgrade to Windows 7 much less Windows 8. Perhaps this is an excellent opportunity for them to rethink their heavy reliance on machines that rely on the use of a single operating system. Many of these computers are still perfectly usable machines, but they will be less usable because Microsoft has chosen to no longer support XP. I understand perfectly that is a business decision, and I respect Microsoft's right to make it, but I also think schools and districts would do well to take advantage of the demise of the XP machines to make some more strategic decisions. Some of those decisions might include the following:

  • Purchase Apple computers. I don't get any promotional fees for saying that. I don't even own an Apple computer, but my observation of how Apple rolls out computers and operating systems makes me think if having a full-fledged laptop or desktop is a must, then perhaps MacBooks and iMacs are the way to go. Why? I've known many a Mac user who tell me they've used the same computer for 7 or 8 years and have had little difficulty. They've even been able to upgrade operating systems multiple times without glitches. Apple's pricing structure may mean spending more upfront, but the reliability and longevity might be worth it. Then again, you might be concerned because you could buy three PCs for the price of one Mac, so replacing more often might be acceptable. Still, there's no question that the Mac is back and certainly again a contender for replacing all these aging computers.
  • Purchase Chromebooks. Doing this once again breaks the umbilical cord from Microsoft. Chromebooks use Google's Chromium operating system and users rely heavily on Google Chrome apps, but worrying about the next operating system upgrade isn't a worry at all. Since all is Web-based, there's no need to worry about upgrades of anything. The price of Chromebooks are alluring as well. The only drawback I can see is that without a wifi connection, you basically have a high-tech paper-weight. Chromebooks can also be an option for moving away from Microsoft products and dependency thereof.
  • Moving to iOS or Android tablets. There is honestly little left that you can't do on a tablet that you can do on a laptop or desktop. There are even more things you can do with tablet, like shooting video, photos, among many other things. Schools and school districts might also think about tablets when replacing all these dying XP computers. Tablets are really quite versatile. There have been great improvements in management of these devices in school settings. There have also been improvements in both iOS and Android operating systems, and perhaps one big advantage, users of tablets are not charged when the next upgrade comes long like they are with Windows PCs.Tablets are a viable replacement for all those computers that will be left with an unsupported operating system in 2014. One might wonder why I failed to mention Microsoft Surface tablets as an option. Besides not having a single experience with these devices, I have to admit I am a bit apprehensive about continuing to rely so heavily on one software company. Who's to say that Microsoft won't charge customers for their Surface tablet operating system upgrades. They have charged PC users for years.

One year later, I am no closer to purchasing a Windows 8 computer for my home, nor would I recommend buying such for schools. With the demise of Windows XP, school districts and schools have an excellent opportunity to re-evaluate and choose many other options that are out there.

cross posted at

J. Robinson has decades of experience as a K12 Principal, Teacher, and Technology Advocate. Read more at The 21st Century Principal.