If you're still running Windows XP, and you use the Internet, it's time to upgrade your operating system (OS). In just a few weeks, on April 8, 2014, Microsoft will stop providing any updates or support for XP.
XP users are a big group; almost 30 per cent of computers still run Windows XP, according to NetMarketShare.com, scary considering it's a 12 year old operating system in an industry that moves as fast as tech. That's the second-largest share, after Windows 7, of any operating system. Windows 8 comes in third, at just over 10.5 per cent.
"So what," you say?
For starters, if any sort of bug pops up, you're on your own. Your computer will no longer get security updates or patches from Microsoft, and if the operating system decides not to work at all, too bad. Furthermore, new versions of application software and new games likely won't run on XP, and peripherals won't have XP drivers, so forget about that new printer.
More importantly, it also means your computer will have a big, fat target painted on it. Hackers know a good thing when they see it – and from their point of view, an unsupported operating system is wonderful. When XP Service Pack 1 went out of support (the about-to-be retired version is Service Pack 3), Microsoft saw an increase in attacks on systems running it within 24 hours. Crooks aren't stupid; they've been saving exploits so they could hit the unsupported masses and steal their personal information or use the compromised machines to attack others. Things can get ugly, fast.
Who is still running XP? In one nerve-making example, the Canadian Border Services Agency's NEXUS kiosks (due for replacement this summer) are tottering along on XP, although the CBSA has negotiated extended support from Microsoft for those systems and, spokesman Luc Nadon said in an e-mail, has also introduced other protective measures to tide it over until the new kiosks are installed. Many businesses – large and small – haven't upgraded. They may have legacy software that doesn't run on newer OSes, or they may not have the time or resources available to do the work, or they just may not think of it as a big deal (it is). Large corporations can contract for extended support (which likely won't be cheap) if they can't complete their migration from XP by support termination date.
Consumers and small business, however, don't have that option. Their choices are upgrade, or accept the risks.
Windows XP has had a great run. When it was introduced in October of 2001, it pulled together the worlds of Windows 95/Windows Me and Windows 2000/Windows NT. Although eyebrows were raised over the colourful, almost cartoon-like icons at first, users quickly grew attached to the OS. It ran most of their older software, and worked with most current devices, which made businesses happy, and it provided an easy upgrade that ran modern software, including the latest games, for consumers.
Then Windows Vista came along (not Microsoft's most shining hour; Vista today has a mere 3 per cent share according to NetMarketShare.com). It was slow, and unstable, and people refused to upgrade in droves. By the time the issues were rectified, it was too late; the company capitulated, and extended XP support.
We're not in that position now. We have viable choices. Windows 7 is probably the most solid operating system Microsoft ever produced, and it will receive security updates until 2020 (mainstream support, including non-security related bug fixes, ends next January). Windows 8.1's mainstream support doesn't end until January of 2018, and it has extended support until 2023, so it's probably the better choice for consumers.
So, if you're a consumer running XP the obvious next question is, can I even download and run Windows 8? Microsoft offers tools to help you figure out whether or not you can upgrade. If not, you'll find that new machines can be had for not a lot of money, there's even a free tool available to migrate all of your files, settings, and user profiles to the new machine. But what about your third-party software? You can run the free Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant, which evaluates everything installed on the machine and tells you what is compatible and what isn't, and whether there are updates available for each incompatible item. There's a similar Upgrade Advisor for Windows 7.
XP has served us well. Don't turn that love into hate by clinging to it past its best-before date and ending up getting hacked.