Germans Give Out Linux to Windows XP Die-Hards

Windows XP's time is running out, but the city government of Munich, Germany, knows one way to mitigate the dying system's security risk: Switch the entire city over to the Ubuntu Linux operating system, specifically Version 12.04 Long Term Support (Precise Pangolin).

Windows XP used to be the world's most popular operating system, and many stalwarts are still hanging onto it, especially overseas. Its lightweight system requirements and wide range of supported software mean that many users have been reluctant to switch over to newer OSes like Windows 7 or 8.

This strategy has worked so far, but will become much harder to support after April 2014, when Microsoft will pull the plug on XP support after almost 12 years. Die-hards can still use XP after that point, although without new security updates, the system will become increasingly vulnerable to harmful malware and malicious hackers.

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The City of Munich does not want a vulnerable populace, and has adopted a fairly aggressive stance on getting XP fans switched over to Ubuntu. In addition to linking users to a free Ubuntu download via its website, city officials have taken to Munich libraries to distribute 2,000 CDs of the open-source operating system.

It's worth noting that the City of Munich voted to switch all government systems to Linux more than a decade ago, and has done its best to excise Microsoft from city computers in the last 10 years.

Ubuntu is one of the easiest Linux systems to install (some Linux builds are considerably harder to get up and running), although citizens of Munich who take the plunge will have to rely on their own wits and the Internet's vast resources to get them started. While city officials will point them in the right direction, Munich will not provide any tech support for Ubuntu beyond distributing the product.

For those who have never used it, Ubuntu is a type of the free, open-source Linux OS. Ubuntu is one of the simpler Linux systems to use, and the system looks and functions a lot like Windows. Once users get the system up and running, they will find that many of their everyday clients — like Firefox for Internet browsing and Thunderbird for email — work just the same as before.

Ubuntu is generally safer than Windows for a number of reasons. By default, Windows XP runs program installations with administrative privileges, meaning that a malicious program could grant itself all kinds of permissions without first asking the user.

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The Ubuntu user base is also minuscule compared to that of Windows (although, if the City of Munich has its way, that could change over time). In effect, it's not worth a hacker's time to generate a piece of malware that targets Ubuntu when he or she could find hundreds or thousands more potential victims on a Windows machine.

Of course, none of this should suggest that Ubuntu is completely unaffected by malware, or that converts from Windows can toss online common sense out the window. Ubuntu users need to exercise caution online, the same as anyone else. The primary difference is that they'll be protected until April 2017 — longer if they update to the latest version.

Switching your OS may sound intimidating, but it's not nearly as scary as subjecting yourself to the building library of malware that will debut after the sun sets on Windows XP.

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Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.