After a 12-year reign as the most successful version of Windows, on April 8th, 2014 Microsoft will end support for Windows XP. Some have called it the XPocalypse while others hail it as something long overdue and a necessary step in the evolution of the Windows family. Which side of the fence you land on will likely depend on whether you stand to gain or lose from this event. Either way, this will be a major event since as of last count, there are still an estimated 200 million XP users around the world.
So, if you’re still running Windows XP, what does this mean to you? Well for starters these machines will not stop working on April 8th—that’s the good news. You can continue to use XP for as long as you choose but that comes with some potentially big risks. The bad news is that when Microsoft ends XP support, they will stop issuing patches for any vulnerabilities discovered by hackers. Hackers constantly look for new security holes to exploit and with no remedies coming from Microsoft, they are likely to target Windows XP heavily. My suspicion is that they are quietly sitting on stacks of exploits that they will unleash right after the April 8th deadline.
Options for moving forward.
The safest course of action is upgrading to a newer (supported) operating system. The two mainstream Operating Systems from Microsoft are Windows 7 and Windows 8. Both options are available as upgrades to Windows XP but you must make sure that the hardware you own supports these newer operating systems. The cost for upgrading is anywhere from $90 to $199 depending on the version—not an insignificant amount of money to spend on older hardware. Another option is to load one of the more user-friendly versions on Linux such as Ubuntu. Ubuntu is free and while there will be a learning curve for those only familiar with Windows, the user interface is quite intuitive and users typically get the hang of it quickly. And did I mention it’s free?
If you choose to continue using Windows XP, here are a few tips that will help minimize the risks you will face:
Anti-Virus Software: Given the likelihood of attacks on Windows XP machines, it’s more important than ever to make sure you have a current anti-virus product installed and set up to receive updates automatically. Microsoft will end support for the Microsoft Security Essentials product (for XP users only) on April 8th but most other software vendors plan to support XP until 2015 and beyond. But before you run out and drop $50-100 on some fancy anti-virus and/or anti-malware software, you might want to consider spending that money on a newer version of Windows, which can be secured well enough with one of the free tools available from Microsoft and others.
Browser Choices: Internet Explore on XP systems has been outdated for some time and will now be dropped altogether. You will need to install an alternative browser. My favorite is Google Chrome but Mozilla Firefox also does a great job. Browser add-ons (also-known as plug-ins) can add risks. The java add-on is especially exploit-prone on any system. Unless you absolutely need it, remove it or disable it along with any other add-ons you don’t use regularly. When in doubt, disable the add-on and see if you experience any issues while browsing.
Stay Offline: If your reason for sticking with XP is due to software that won’t run on newer systems—and that software does not require you to connect to the internet—considering taking the machine offline and eliminating the threat of an attack altogether. This may seem like a radical approach but it’s straightforward and effective.
User-Accounts: In the event of a malware infection, the amount of damage done will depend on the security level of the infected user. Reserve Administrator accounts for installing software and making other system changes. Change all other user accounts to “Limited” and always use a limited account to perform day-to-day tasks. As a side note, this tip applies to all versions of Window, not just XP.
Far be it for me to tell you how to proceed. However what I will say is that whichever path you choose to take, you should do it based on solid information rather than keeping you fingers crossed and hoping for the best. I hope the above information will give you the information and tools you need to successfully navigate the end of support for Windows XP.