End of an Era

Going, Going, Gone!
Unless you’ve been living in a cave you know that on April 8, Microsoft will stop supporting their ancient operating system – Windows XP. 

You might think that an operating system that was actually engineered in the late 90s would be fully obsolete and unused by now. After all, since XP came out, Microsoft has released several major replacement versions: Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 (recently upgraded to Windows 8.1).

But there’s something about Windows XP. It’s basic, stable, fast enough, and good enough for a lot of people. It’s still running on more than 10 percent of the world’s computers.

Still, it’s time has come. It’s hard to keep an operating system this old up to snuff in today’s fast paced online environment. XP works, but it’s not built to the same security level as modern operating systems. Microsoft doesn’t want to keep writing new security upgrades for it, so on April 8, its stopping. No more security updates. No more support. Your XP computer will still work, but Microsoft won’t help you anymore. Microsoft is pretty harsh about it too, stating: “XP cannot be considered safe to use after support ends.”

Microsoft has been urging us to upgrade for a long time. There’s even a site that tells you when your XP world will end: AmIRunningXP.com. Microsoft also has more info on what “end of support” means. To be fair, moving off XP would be a smart thing to do. Newer operating systems are easier to use (at least most of them), they run the cool new apps, and they’re definitely safer. But how do you move from an old computer that’s running XP into the modern era? There’s a lot of advice on how to make the transition. Not all of it good. Here are some good and bad options.

Bad idea #1: Just don’t worry about it
It’s not like Windows XP computers will magically stop working on April 9. So don’t worry about it; just keep on using it.

Why is this a bad idea? The problem with an old operating system is that it’s not up to speed with modern attacks. Operating systems need to be patched (updated) frequently to keep them safe from data thieves, scammers, viruses, and the like. After April 8, there will be no more updates coming.

But if you plan to keep going with XP for a while, at least make sure you’re on the last, ultimate version of it, called Service Pack 3. After April 8, you won’t be able to upgrade. Windows’ own update utility should manage this for you. Make sure it’s done so. 

Microsoft says it will continue to provide updates to its “anti-malware signatures and engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015,” so you can continue to use the company’s antivirus app, Microsoft Security Essentials. That is, assuming you already have MSE installed and running. After April 8, it won’t be available for download. You might even find another antivirus tool from a third party but don’t get too comfortable. According to Microsoft, even up-to-date security software can’t save you if the operating system itself isn’t secure. And Windows XP just isn’t secure. 

So yes, you can keep using XP, but not without risk. You probably don’t want it connected to the Internet, and even plugging a USB drive into it could be unsafe.

Bad idea #2: Upgrade to Windows 8, like Microsoft wants you to
Why not get the latest version of Windows? It’s so shiny!

There are two big reasons why this is a bad idea. The first: It probably won’t work. Your old Win XP machine likely does not have the horsepower, the hard disk space, or the hardware to run Windows 8. 

Second: You’ll hate it. Windows 8 (including 8.1) has two separate interfaces. There’s a Windows desktop-like one in there, which you’ll probably find comfortable, but you have to go through the touchscreen-centric primary interface to get to it. That’s fine if you have a tablet. But your XP machine is no tablet.  You can mostly avoid that tile-based, touchscreen interface, but not completely. It pops up from time to time, usually when you’re in a hurry and stressed out, and it’s frustrating when it happens.

Bad idea #3: Move to Linux
The geek operating system (sorry, geeks) called Linux is stable, fast, cheap, and free, and will run on your old XP machine better than Windows 8 will. The nerds will tell you it’ll do everything that XP will do. They’re right…. But here’s why it’s a bad idea: Linux really is a platform for nerds. Few people you know — unless you know a lot of programmers — will be able to help you out. And your Windows software won’t work. If you have apps you like, you’ll have to find Linux equivalents for them. You’re better off moving to a consumer-friendly operating system.

Better idea #1: Upgrade to Windows 7
The version of Windows that predates Windows 8 is really very good. It’s stable and similar enough to Windows XP that a transition will not be difficult.

It’s not a perfect solution, though. Your computer may not have the juice to run Windows 7, either, as it actually takes a slightly more powerful computer to run Windows 7 well than Windows 8. But you can, for the time being still buy Windows 7 (even though it’s not clear if Microsoft is still manufacturing Win 7 disks), and some hardware vendors still sell computers with Windows 7 installed on them.

Microsoft really wants you on Windows 8 and continues to remind us that Windows 8 is more secure, faster, and uses less energy than Windows 7. But the easiest new version of Windows to learn after Windows XP is Windows 7, so if you’re just using Windows to run a particular application, it’s a very good option.

Better idea #2: Get a Mac
Interestingly enough, it’s easier to move from Windows XP to the Macintosh operating system, OS X, than to Windows 8.1. There are many small differences, but OS X is pretty similar to Windows XP (and every other version of Windows other than Windows 8). It doesn’t take people very long to adapt. Most (though not all) good PC applications are available in Mac versions, too, and your data files should transfer over just fine.

It’s an expensive move, though. The cheapest new Mac costs $600 (the entry-level Mac Mini can use the screen, mouse, and keyboard from your old Windows computer). Laptops start at $1000 and desktops at $1,300. Complete Windows machines today start in the $500 range, or very nicely equipped at about $800. If you can afford it and you’re not married to specific Windows XP software, a new Mac might be the perfect answer for you.

You’re not alone
Why are people still using Windows XP? Some people keep old machines for specific purposes, like running XP-only software. Some are just of the opinion that if they have a computer that works for what they want, there’s no reason to spend money on an upgrade.

Just because a manufacturer deems one of its products obsolete, it doesn’t mean everyone who uses the product has to stop using it immediately. However, over time, an old product in the modern world will present challenges: It will be less safe, there won’t be people  trained to fix it, or some other component it relies on will fail, and replacements will no longer be available. When you get into this portion of the lifecycle, you might be forced to move on. You’ll have a lot of options when it’s time to do so — they just might not be the options the manufacturer recommends.

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