How I 'upgraded' my mom's Windows XP computer

Upgrade Windows XP to Chrome OS
Credit: Simonbarsinister/Flickr

Hint: It has nothing to do with Windows 10.

I love my mom. She's a smart, caring, and creative woman -- and c'mon: She obviously did a killer job at the whole "raising me" thing.

Technology, though? It's just not her forte. The best way to describe her relationship with smartphones, computers, and other such contraptions is one of reluctant and begrudging acceptance. And trust me: That's putting it nicely.

My mom checks her email once every week or two, usually when I call and tell her that I sent something. She warily let me move her from a flip-phone to a smartphone in 2014, when the Moto E came out, and even let me upgrade her to the newer Moto G last year -- but both decisions were driven mainly by the fact that the newer phones would make texting easier than what she had before.

She doesn't actually use any of her smartphone's "smart" functions, in fact; part of the flip-to-smartphone deal involved me creating an elaborate custom setup (using Nova Launcher) to hide most of the smartphone-y things and have the device basically function as a fancy calling and texting apparatus. You know, like a phone -- in the more traditional sense.

Technology just isn't her thing -- and so it should come as no surprise when I tell you that she's still using a Windows XP computer to do all of her email-checking and Web browsing at home. It's a pretty decent system, mind you, but Windows XP is very much on its last legs at this point.

I didn't feel too worried about Microsoft ending support for the OS a couple years ago. My mom's online activity is limited mostly to emailing sporadically with a few people and pulling up the occasional Web page -- more often than not a Google Photos shared-album link from me -- and so the presence of solid antivirus software combined with Chrome's built-in browsing protections seemed to keep the odds of catastrophe acceptably low.

But now, the clock is really a-tickin'. Google is officially ending its support for Chrome on Windows XP this April, as I was reminded when my mom started noticing a banner in her browser alerting her of said deadline. No more Chrome support means no further security fixes or other software updates -- and when you consider how frequently Google pushes out patches and new versions of its browser, that's a pretty big problem.

Honestly, it's more of a real-world concern for me than anything on the OS level in this situation, because -- cue the foreshadowing music -- for all intents and purposes, the browser pretty much is my mom's operating system.

Decisions, decisions

So what to do? As I sat staring at the comfortingly familiar XP desktop and wondering if Clippy could ever forgive me for all my relentless mocking over the years (we actually used to be close, but the fella has a habit of getting overly attached), I thought through our options. The PC could easily support a newer version of Windows, but was that really the route we wanted to take? My mom would hate having to learn the ins and outs of Windows 10, and most of what makes Windows 10 what it is involves stuff she would never use and would resent having to deal with.

Plus, a Windows 10 license and download would cost 120 bucks! (Alas, no free upgrade offer for humble XP holdouts.) In this day and age, that much moulah for software seems insane -- especially when it's something my mom doesn't even want to begin with.

Onto Plan B, then: I could bump her up to Windows 7, which is much closer to what she knows than Windows 10 would be. But you know what? That still doesn't seem like a particularly appealing solution. Finding and installing Windows 7 nowadays is a massive pain in the patootie, for one, and the software still isn't exactly cheap, either. Plus, the clock is already ticking toward Microsoft's end-of-support date for that operating system, which means Google's end-of-support date for Chrome there likely won't be too far behind it. At best, I'd be putting an awkward-fitting and annoying Band-Aid onto the problem.

And then it struck me: The ideal solution had nothing to do with Windows, or even the PC in front of me. The answer resided in Chrome itself -- Chrome OS, to be specific.

The specifics of the solution

I've actually wanted to get my mom on Chrome OS for a while now, but -- remember? -- she's resistant to change, especially when it comes to technology. Her XP setup was working fine, and she didn't want to mess with anything if she didn't absolutely have to.

Well, now the need for evolution had arrived -- and Chrome OS was the perfect place to progress. I've used and written about Chrome OS since its start, and let me tell you: My mom is exactly the kind of person for whom the platform makes sense. Everything she does revolves around the Web and Web-centric apps, and she ultimately just wants something that'll let her do what she needs to do without any complications, maintenance, or other typical computing hassles.

Eureka.

So rather than spending $120 on a Windows 10 purchase for my mom, I spent almost the same -- $140 -- on a brand new Chromebox. She didn't want a laptop and wanted to stick with a stationary keyboard-mouse-and-monitor setup, so Asus's Haswell-based Chromebox proved to be just the ticket.

Amazon had a great deal on a model with 2GB of RAM (which should be plenty for her single-tab-at-a-time style of computing -- but if it isn't, I can always pick up and pop in a couple of extra DIMMs for pretty cheap down the line). Surprisingly enough, the version of the system I found with a bundled keyboard and mouse was discounted heavily and actually cheaper than the computer by itself (though it looks like Amazon's own stock has since sold out and the same deal is now available only through third-party sellers).

And when you consider that my loving tech supportee will also be saying so long to her $60/yr. Norton antivirus subscription -- no need for that with Chrome OS, after all -- this immensely capable new system will actually end up costing significantly less than the Windows 10 software alone would have. Heck, even if Google stops supporting this particular Chromebox in a few years, with the recurring $60/yr. in savings, she could easily buy a new box, migrate to it painlessly (with the steps literally being plug in, turn on, and sign in) -- and still come out ahead in terms of money spent.

No matter how you look at it, it just makes sense. 

Best of all, the transition from Windows XP to Chrome OS should be pretty seamless. My mom's already using Chrome and Gmail, albeit via a local Outlook app in the latter case. So the only real adjustment will be getting used to a Web interface for email, and I've already been priming Inbox (with its bundling feature disabled for added simplicity) for her arrival. Her latest printer is already cloud-capable, so printing will be no problem. And on the rare occasion that she wants to type up a document, Docs will be standing by and ready.

I've said it before a million times: Chrome OS isn't right for everyone. But when it's right, boy, is it right.

Sometimes, less really is more. 

(And sorry again, Clippy. But let's not get all bent out of shape over this, okay?)

[Wanna convert your old computer into a 'Chromebook'? Read this first]

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