If you still have Windows XP at home, deal with it by April 8, 2014. That’s the end of security updates for XP. It’s also the end of security updates for Internet Explorer version 8 (the last IE version for XP). It’s the end of security updates for Microsoft Office 2003, including Word, Excel, and the rest of Office.
Why does it matter?
- New, unpatched attacks: Attackers have known about this date for a long time, and they know a lot of people still have Windows XP. Most likely, they’ve been saving up some attack forms, because they know Microsoft won’t be issuing any more patches.
- Lack of software: It’ll get harder and harder to find software that runs on XP. Software providers will stop bothering to make sure their stuff runs on XP. Microsoft will stop offering downloads that work on XP.
What should I do with XP?
The best thing you can do is to update it, replace it, or disconnect it from the Internet.
If you want to upgrade XP: Run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant to find out if your PC can be upgraded to Windows 8. Take a look at the Microsoft page Upgrade to Windows 8.1 from Windows Vista or Windows XP. Be warned, you’re in for some changes. There are differences between Windows XP and Wincows 8.
If you want to replace your PC: This automatically gets you the latest version of Windows, and you’ll probably wind up with a faster computer. Take a look at the Windows Easy Transfer tool to help you move files from the old computer to the new computer. If you also wind up with a new version of Microsoft Office, read up on the differences between Office versions. If you haven’t seen anything newer than Office 2003, the interface is different.
If you don’t need network connectivity and you want to keep XP: If you don’t need network connectivity at all, the lingering security flaws in Windows won’t matter. Unplug network and phone cables from the computer, and disable the wireless connection if it has one. (There’s usually a button or slider for disabling wireless.)
What if I want to keep XP and still use the Internet?
Staying on XP isn’t the best idea, but here are some things you can do to stay as safe as you can.
- Run Windows Update and make sure you’ve got all the security updates available from Microsoft.
- Run Secunia Personal Software Inspector to make sure all your installed software has been patched too. I recommend this tool for any Windows user, but it’ll be especially important to make sure you’ve patched your XP computer as well as you can. Secunia PSI is free for home, non-commercial use.
- Make sure you update your anti-virus software regularly and run scans regularly. Be warned: The anti-virus people will eventually stop making software that runs on XP. Tick tock.
- If you use Internet Explorer, which can’t go past version 8 on XP, switch to Chrome or Firefox. So far, they still run on XP and still get security updates. Some day, however, they’ll also stop running on XP. (I don’t have religious preferences on web browsers, but Chrome and Firefox are about to be the only web browsers that will continue getting security updates on XP.)
In addition, the usual ways to stay safe online become especially important on XP:
- Use a non-administrative user ID except when you absolutely need to be an administrator. On any computer and any operating system, a lot of vulnerabilities become irrelevant if your user ID doesn’t have administrator privileges. In XP, click Start / Control Panel / User Accounts. You want an “administrator” account for when you need privileged access (like installing new software), but a “limited” account for routine day-to-day use.
- Visit only trustworthy, reputable sites. You might want a free tool like K9 Web Protection to help steer you away from risky sites.
- Be very picky about downloading any more software.
- Don’t click on email attachments and links unless you were expecting them.