The voyage back to Microsoft's Windows XP
For many people, buying a computer has never been a walk in the park. Deciphering all the computer jargon makes it hard enough to find the right computer for the right price. But the process becomes even harder when hardware and software technicalities hamper the decision making process. Microsoft Windows, although perhaps seemingly simple, can be a difficult part of that selection process.
Many buyers surely recall six years ago when Windows XP had just been released to the masses. With many unsatisfied Windows Millennium Edition (ME) customers ready to throw in the towel, Windows XP was embraced with open arms.
But the introduction of Windows Vista (the latest version of Windows) didn't quite turn out the same way.
For the most part, Windows XP works relatively well for most people. The need for change isn't necessarily there for many.
There have also been some very sharp criticisms of Vista that have discouraged a number of consumers from buying it.
The result is that many don't want to buy a new computer with Vista preloaded on it, but aren't being offered any other alternative. So some are considering the purchase of a Vista PC with plans to downgrade to Windows XP.
Typically, upgrading is far more difficult than downgrading. But the transition from the brand-new Vista to the older XP isn't always easy.
Recently, a friend brought his brand-new notebook computer to me, unhappy with the Windows Vista that came pre-loaded with the PC. He said he'd looked long and hard to find a vendor that would sell him a notebook preloaded with XP and couldn't find one. So he wanted to know if it was possible to replace the Vista on his notebook PC with XP. After looking the notebook over, I told him I didn't see why not.
So, we threw in the retail Windows XP CD that he'd bought separately into his computer and rebooted.
Before long Vista had been erased and XP was installing. After about a 30 minute wait, XP booted for the first time. But we soon learned that XP had not properly recognized all the hardware in the computer.
The notebook sound hardware didn't work at all, nor did the wireless and wired networking. The built-in card reader didn't work either. XP just didn't have the right software to make most the hardware work.
So, we visited the notebook manufacturer's home page on the Internet, hoping to be able to download the needed software (drivers) to make everything work. We found drivers for the notebook, but sadly, all the downloads were only for Vista. There were absolutely no XP downloads.
We downloaded a few of them and tried some of them anyway. No luck. They wouldn't install on a non-Vista system.
He then called the notebook's support number and asked where he could find Windows XP downloads, only to be told that Windows XP was unsupported on that particular notebook and was strongly discouraged from removing or replacing Vista on the PC.
I then pointed out that if we could determine the actual brand and model of each part or device inside the notebook, we could download Windows XP drivers directly from the hardware manufacturer's website. For example, if the wireless hardware was a product of Intel, we could visit Intel's home page and download Windows XP compatible drivers for the wireless hardware from there.
Obtaining information about the notebook was no easy chore. We did everything short of physically tearing the notebook apart to make these determinations, and weren't faring very well. XP couldn't tell us anything more than we were missing audio and wireless hardware drivers, for example. We had no idea what brands of hardware were actually inside the notebook.
I started searching forums and message boards for posts from people who owned this very same notebook and had already downgraded to XP. At first, my searches came up empty handed. But finally I found a tech forum containing a message posted by someone who had successfully made the voyage back to XP, and lucky for us, had posted a large zip file containing XP compatible software drivers for all the different hardware in the notebook.
Now, I don't generally recommend downloading software drivers from unofficial locations, as the safety and integrity of the software cannot always be ensured. But we'd exhausted all other options, so we took our chances and downloaded the file.
Lucky for us, the drivers in the zip file worked. After about 30 minutes, everything was working perfectly. He finally had a completely functional Windows XP installation.
Unfortunately, not everyone can run XP on their "made-for-Vista" computers. Some computer owners may be unable to acquire all the software (drivers, in particular) needed to run XP. Others may simply lack the technical knowledge to make it happen.
In any event, consumers should be aware of the potential for problems that downgrading their operating system may cause. It may be that the system which came preloaded on the PC is the only system that will run properly on the PC.
Consumers should also be aware that it is unlikely that they can use the Windows XP disc and serial number that came with the old PC to install XP on a newer computer.
Chances are, unless XP was purchased separately (retail), the serial number is permanently stored on a microchip inside the old computer and cannot be used on any other computer system. This may be more than a legal limitation - it may also be a technical limitation.
Consumers who may be tempted to buy a copy of OS-X from Apple and install it on their PC should be aware that such a feat cannot be accomplished either. OS-X won't install unless it finds the microchip in the computer that basically says "yup, I'm a Mac!"
The safest and most hassle-free approach is to buy the computer with the preferred system already preloaded on it. If such a computer cannot be found, perhaps a phone call from enough people might change their mind. Otherwise, buyers might have to simply live with whatever system comes with their PC.
Have comments about this article or suggestions for a future Tech Tips article? Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.