Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft. Installing it will usually result in a less than satisfying experience, until some fixes are applied manually. This article will explain why and how to do that.
It’s 2017 For Crying Out Loud, Are You A Madman?
Yeah, yeah. Windows XP has it’s flaws. Microsoft doesn’t support it. Everyone says move to Windows 7/10. Security concerns and marketing scare tactics aside, there’s a whole lot of computers and laptops out there with Windows XP still, and here are a few reasons for maintaining such a machine:
- The computer is a hand-me-down for a family member or kid. Nothing expensive to worry about if it gets damaged. You did pay for this thing, remember? You did purchase software and games for it back in the day, remember? Might as well squeeze out that extra ounce.
- The computer cannot be upgraded to a newer version of Windows due to hardware requirements. You did pay for this thing, remember? Just because Microsoft doesn’t support it doesn’t mean you need to trash it. The computer still computes.
- A service technician needs to interface with an old machine (like an office copier or PBX phone system), using an older cable interface such as 9-pin serial, or older software program such as MS-DOS. Sometimes Windows XP is the only solution here.
- The computer is part of a legacy system or network environment that cannot be replaced without incurring overhead, downtime or fees. Chain restaurants like Subway may still use Windows XP for taking orders. These are typically disk imaged to make fast deployment and repair possible, working as a turnkey restaurant solution.
- You want to run a virtual machine (VM) with a licensed copy of Windows for whatever reason.
- You’re a cheapskate and thought it was a good idea to buy a computer w/ original media on eBay or at a pawn shop for $50. I won’t say that was a good idea, but you may still be in luck.
- The computer is kept around for preference, nostalgia or cyberpunk/cypherpunk reasons. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
For these reasons it is a good idea to always save your Windows XP disc and serial number. These are things you paid money for, and there is no way to recover them if lost. Another important thing to save is the driver disc, because as these computers get old it becomes more difficult to find the drivers online.
Now let’s walk through the steps necessary to get this antique operating system up and running.
Warning, Do Not Ignore This Warning
Whenever you obtain a computer from a third party, you need to understand there is a chance that it already has malware/spyware on it, just waiting to snag your credit card numbers. Your best bet is to format the hard drive and reinstall Windows XP, but if you can’t do that, you will definitely want to run at least 3 different virus/malware scanners before using it. And it might be a good idea not to use it for critical stuff like banking.
And like I said earlier, Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft which means they won’t patch any security problems and you could be a sitting duck for some kind of remote exploit. Good antivirus software and firewall can help mitigate these issues, but you must understand that using an OS which is no longer supported is not recommended. Do so at your own risk.
You could always use the computer without an internet connection, then there would be practically nothing to worry about. But you must still be careful with removable media like USB thumb drives and external drives which can spread malware from one device to another – even without internet. Consider this scenario – your Windows XP computer has a virus you are unaware of, you plug in a thumb drive, the virus gets on the thumb drive, then you give the thumb drive to a friend or you plug it into your other computer (which does have internet). Woops!
Final word of warning – scan every file you download for viruses/malware, including the ones I’ve linked in this article.
Installing and Updating Windows XP
If you’re installing or reinstalling Windows XP in the year 2017, it’s probably NOT going to work right away without applying a few fixes manually. You’ll find that the included version of Internet Explorer isn’t capable of exploring the internet (at all), and Windows Update won’t run due to error code 0x80072EFF.
Step 1 – INSTALL WINDOWS UPDATE CLIENT 3.0
This step is useful because nearly everything in Windows XP is tied into the Windows Update service, so we need that to be functional before proceeding with anything else.
Once you have the Windows Update Client 3.0 installed, you’ll notice some Windows Updates start to trickle in and you may see the little Windows Update icon near the clock, or you may be prompted to install updates during Shutdown.
We can usually ignore these trickling updates and proceed immediately to Step 2.
Step 2 – INSTALL WINDOWS XP SERVICE PACK 3
This will install a bunch of updates which will allow us to install Internet Explorer 8 in the next step, which finally gives us access to the Windows Update website. Once you have the Service Pack 3 installed, proceed to Step 3.
If you’re unable to install Service Pack 3 at this point, you might need to apply a few of the Windows Updates that have trickled in first. Go ahead and install any of the updates that appear. Reboot and repeat as necessary until no further updates appear, then proceed to Step 3.
Step 3 – INSTALL INTERNET EXPLORER 8
In this step we will upgrade Internet Explorer 6 or 7 to version 8. Once this is installed, you will be able to visit the Windows Update website and install additional updates like normal.
Step 4 – INSTALL REMAINING WINDOWS UPDATES
You’re almost done installing Windows XP! Now just visit the Windows Update website and keep installing the updates that appear there until the computer is fully up to date.
Step 5 – INSTALL HARDWARE DRIVERS
At this point the computer is up and running on Windows XP, but you probably need to install some hardware drivers to get the full benefit your computer has to offer. This is easy if you still have the driver disc, or if the drivers already got installed through Windows Update. In any case, it’s a good idea to check Device Manager and see what’s missing.
Right click on My Computer, choose Manage, then look for any yellow question marks under Other devices. These are hardware devices that still require a driver to be installed in order to function properly. The names of these devices will be ambiguous – Modem Device or SM Bus Controller – but you can Google these names along with your computer make/model and usually find the matching driver.
For example: dell latitude d630 modem device driver (tons of results)
Be careful here and make sure you are downloading drivers from reputable sources and not some shady website. When in doubt, scan the driver files with a virus/malware scanner before installing them.
You’re done now. The computer is fully functional as if it just came out of the package. Well…kinda. Pat yourself on the back. Have a beer. Finally, check out some recommended software for Windows XP at the end of this article.
True Windows XP warriors should proceed to the next section.
Harden Windows XP for Better Security and Performance
Recommended Software for Windows XP
Web Browser Software
FireFox – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2 | uBlock Origin
The latest version of FireFox is still supported in Windows XP as of this writing. There are some truly talented, dedicated and admirable developers maintaining this software 🙂 You should pick up the uBlock Origin add-on as well for blocking advertisement networks.
Tor Browser – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
This is basically FireFox with extra security and privacy features and utilizes the Tor network for anonymous browsing. It disables a lot of common browser features to prevent websites from identifying you, tracking you, or stealing your data. That said, the browsing experience will be much slower than using plain old vanilla FireFox. I’d only recommend this for advanced users.
Opera 36 – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
A pretty good browser from what I hear, but I’ve never used it.
Google Chrome 46 – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
Chrome is currently at version 56 as of this writing, but that version doesn’t support Windows XP, so version 46 is what you’ll need. I’d recommend FireFox over this, but maybe you still use Chromecast or other Chrome-specific stuff.
Creation & Productivity Software
OpenOffice – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
A free alternative to Microsoft Office which supports Microsoft file formats such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Gmail, Google Apps and Google Hangouts – Mirror 1
Gmail is simply a super reliable and very secure email service. Google Apps such as Google Docs and Google Sheets work in your web browser and act like a Microsoft Office alternative, with support for the Microsoft file formats. As a bonus, your documents are saved in the cloud. Sign up for Gmail and you get access to Google Apps / Hangouts automatically. The cool thing about Hangouts is that Google has integrated their Google Voice service into it. Google will give you a real phone number and you can make real phone calls with it for free by using a microphone or webcam attached to the computer.
Snip Tool – Mirror 1
I can’t live without the Snipping Tool in Windows 7. Unfortunately, Snipping Tool isn’t available for Windows XP, but Snip Tool is an alternative that will work. It was developed by me.
Thunderbird – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
From the makers of FireFox, this is a desktop email client which used to be very popular. I’ve never used it myself.
Pidgin – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
This is a universal instant messenger program which supports a number of different chat protocols such as AIM, ICQ, XMPP, etc. An alternative to Pidgin is called Trillian, but I haven’t used that in over 10 years.
Foxit PDF Reader – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
For viewing PDFs and printing to PDF. The installer tries to pull you into some free trials, you’ll want to dodge those. Latest version still works in Windows XP.
GoldWave 5.70 – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
GoldWave is audio editing software with a ton of features and decent user interface. It’s like Audacity only better. Version 5.70 is the last working version for Windows XP.
Reaper – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
Digital audio workstation (DAW) software which enables one to record and create beats, loops, multi-track audio, and full blown songs.
GIMP – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
Full fledged image editing software with many features that put it nearly on par with Photoshop.
Paint.net 3.5.11 – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
This is a decent alternative to Microsoft Paint, with some Photoshop-like features minus the bloat.
Sublime Text – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
This is a very snappy text editor that I like to use for writing code, especially HTML. The latest version 3 still supports Windows XP.
File Management Software
7-Zip – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
Open-source file compression software that supports the most common types of archives such as zip, rar, 7z and iso. Latest version still supported in Windows XP.
FileZilla FTP Client – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
MagicDisc – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
PowerISO – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
Antivirus & Computer Maintenance Software
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
Spybot S&D – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
BitDefender – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
CCleaner – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
Visual Studio 2010 Express – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
This was hard to find a link for, but Visual Studio 2010 Express will let you develop C++, C# and VB.NET apps (among many other types of projects) in a Windows XP development environment. You will need to burn the iso file to disc and install from disc, or mount the iso using MagicDisc or PowerISO.
NetBeans – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
This is mainly for developing Java apps, if that’s your thing. It’s not really my thing.
NirLauncher – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
Amazing set of over 200 utility programs for digging into every part of Windows. Includes Nirsoft utilities, with optional addon for including Sysinternals utilities.
Winspector – Mirror 1 | Mirror 2
This will let you view real-time information about the operating system and running processes, such as low level Windows Messages, Window classes, child Window heirarchy, etc. Useful for reverse engineering stuff and finding out how software works internally.
Where To Obtain Older Software
(this article is being updated with more information and thus still a work in progress)