Microsoft has officially pulled the plug on support for Windows XP . That’s it. Finite. Done. No more. Don’t expect to see any future patches, services packs, fixes, hotfixes, critical updates, anything — if you’re one of the one-fourth of desktop users or so who are still running the antiquated operating system (yes, there’s that many of you), you’re about to enter the Wild Wild West of computing.
Microsoft is no longer supporting Windows XP. Which means, "hello, hackers!"
So, what does that actually mean? Simple: You have to upgrade. There are no buts about it; staying on Windows XP is a bit like seeing a waterfall ahead on a river and opting to stay in the boat instead of safely paddling to shore. You might not know when you’re going to go over the precipice, but it’s likely that something quite bad is going to happen to you at some point in your future.
We’re not just being overdramatic for the sake of it. Why do you think a number of businesses ( banks, especially ) are spending a small fortune to get their systems upgraded as quickly as can be? Why do you think that a number of them are likely going to be paying Microsoft a princely sum for XP support after the fact, as they’ve simply been unable to upgrade important devices like, say, ATMs before the big cutoff date?
If you’re still not convinced — or know those that need a little bit of extra convincing — we’re going to run through a few Windows XP scenarios to show you that, yes, it’s time to kick this legacy OS to the curb for good.
Patch Tuesday sounds like it’s a good thing, right? That tried-and-true time that comes around once a month, on the second Tuesday of each month, where Microsoft dishes out new security updates for its operating systems.
Only, it’s not going to be doing that for Windows XP any more. And that doesn’t sound quite so bad until you realize just what this might mean for the legacy OS. Consider the following situation: Microsoft finds a security exploit in Windows Vista, 7, and 8 and decides to fix it up using a Patch Tuesday update. Since Windows XP isn’t being fixed anymore, an industrious hacker reverse-engineers Microsoft’s fix and heads on over to his or her Windows XP installation to see if the exploit exists there as well. If it does, he'll most likely exploit it, and then we could be in some serious trouble.
In other words, Microsoft will now be feeding those interested in breaking Windows XP a constant stream of possible exploits to investigate. It’s like turning Patch Tuesday on its head.
A number of novice users might feel that they’re protected from the effects of the Internet underground by running a box-copy virus or malware scanner on their system and calling it a day. While that’s certainly true in some cases, even the best malware scanner on the market isn’t going to protect a person from any raw exploits that can be found or abused within the base level of the operating system itself. It's really apples and oranges.
Using Windows XP today is like dangling over a dangerous waterfall. You wouldn't do that now, would you?
Malware might take advantage of core areas within the operating system, but running Avast, or Norton Antivirus, or what-have-you is only going to help a user out by scanning what he or she downloads from the Web (or plugs into his or her PC). If a weakness is discovered that’s core to Windows XP’s operation, and doesn’t need a software vector in order to affect one’s system, then a scanning app isn’t going to be able to do anything about it.
If we’ve finally managed to convince you that it’s time to switch – or you’ve successfully convinced a friend or loved one that it’s time to move away from Windows XP for good — there are a few routes you can go. The first and most obvious solution is to upgrade, and we recommend that you jump to Windows 7 or Windows 8 when you do. You’ll have an easier time finding copies of the latter and, while it’s a bit of a learning curve for those accustom to the no-frills Windows XP UI experience, more changes coming as a result of Windows 8.1’s official “Update 1” patch will hopefully ease the learning curve ever so slightly.
Before you do, however, make sure that you download, install, and run Microsoft’s official upgrade “advisors” for either Windows 7 or Windows 8 . They’ll tell you whether your system will work well with the new OS from a hardware and software perspective, and they’re valuable tools for getting a general sense of just how well your PC stacks up before you splurge money on an OS upgrade that might not work out that well for you.
Read our Windows 8.1 review here .
If you’re stuck in that camp, those looking to use the death of Windows XP as an inspiration for a shopping trip can also benefit from some of the current promotions running as a result. Microsoft, for example, is offering $100 off new PC purchases for those who access its online store from a Windows XP machine — or, if you want to be truly awesome, for those who drag a Windows XP system into one of the company’s retail stores.
Learn how to install Windows 7 from a USB key here .
That said, some users will still face a bit of heartbreak when moving up to a new operating system. Outlook Express , for example, does not exist in Windows Vista or higher – if that’s your XP-using grandmother’s favorite email client, you might need to help her out in moving on up to something a bit more comprehensive… and supported.
Learn how to install Windows 8 from a USB key here .
For what it’s worth, you can go back to running Windows XP in a secure, virtualized environment . While we don’t recommend that you do anything super-secure in your virtual machine (Amazon shopping might be out), you can at least have access to legacy applications and/or anything else you need from good ol’ Windows XP. And, should this virtualized copy of XP get infected with (or exploited by) something horrible, it won’t affect the contents of your primary operating system – and deleting it / restoring up a new version of Windows XP is super easy.
The truly die-hard can also switch on up to a free Linux variant if they feel as if they’re done with Microsoft now that Windows XP has been put out to pasture. Newbies to Linux can give a Live CD a try, which packs an entire, working operating system onto removable media – an operating system whose contents cannot be affected beyond the point at which you power down your PC for the day. If your sole interest in having a Windows XP machine is to have a simple way to browse the web and check email, this might be a great way to do that — on a legacy PC — without having to spend a penny post-XP.
We’ve covered some of the more general concerns and issues related to the imminent loss of Windows XP. There are plenty more scenarios as to why upgrading is in your best interest, and there are surely quite a few more ways to do it. What’s clear is that Windows XP support is over. Any additional days you spend chained to the legacy OS, you do so at your own risk. Upgrading is easy. Buying a new computer is easy. Setting up your new apps and migrating your data over is… less easy , but it’s better you spend the time doing that than, say, calling up your credit card companies because some industrious hacker connived their way into your Windows XP-based Web shopping, to name one example.
If you’re on Windows XP, stop reading right now. Start upgrading. Stay safe.