April 8, 2014. A day that shall live in infamy for the millions of users who never updated from Microsoft Windows XP. The day that Microsoft changed WinXP to EOL (end of life), ending all support.
If you’re still running Windows XP, you now have a big decision to make: what’s next?
Microsoft released Windows XP back in late 2001, after a series of clumsy incremental releases known unaffectionately as Windows 2000 and Windows Me (which stood for “Millennium Edition”, but really, Windows Me?). Subsequent to WinXP was the worst of all modern Windows versions, Windows Vista, which was fairly quickly replaced by Windows 7. The current version of MS Windows is Windows 8, with Windows 9 already being previewed to developers who visit the Redmond, Washington campus.
But it’s April 8, 2014 and that means today’s the day the support crew at Microsoft says “Stop! Done!” and walks away from Windows XP, almost 13 years after it was introduced. For the majority of users, this is a non-event, because corporations, most business users and gamers have all tracked Windows releases and are long since done with WinXP. But it’s still – ready for this? – the second most popular Windows OS on the Internet, according to TechCrunch data.
According to StatCounter, over 50% of users are running Windows 7 on their systems, about 10% are running Mac OS X, 9% are running Windows 8 (and another 6% running Windows 8.1) and approx. 19% are still running, yes, you guessed it, Windows XP.
Which means a lot of WinXP users have a big decision to make today, whether to stick with a now-obsolete operating system that will never again have a security patch or system update, switch to a different version of Windows or jump to a completely different OS entirely. All of which have risks and challenges.
First thing I’d say is that the option of sticking with Windows XP is a highly dangerous one because if XP wasn’t a target for hackers before, it sure is now because any exploit found will remain open forever. There’s now no-one to fix anything that’s found so I expect that in fairly short order WinXP is going to become one of the most insecure operating systems in the marketplace. So stick with it? Nah, that’s a bad idea.
Which means you have four possibilities: 1. Give up on computers and live in a rural community without electricity and hope for the best. 2. Switch to a Mac system, 3. Switch to a Linux system or, the most likely choice, 4. Switch to a different version of Windows.
I’ve been running Mac systems since they first came on the market in 1984 and now our team is heavily invested in Macs. Upside: Mac OS X is a smoother, more elegant experience with applications that tend to play very well together. It’s fast and Apple makes beautiful equipment, from phones to tablets to laptops to desktop systems. For a price. For, well, a really big price. My MacBook Pro cost about $2200 USD, a price that’s above even the best, most tricked out PC laptop in the marketplace. So it’s expensive and when you take into account that you might have to purchase new, Mac versions of your favorite apps, the most expensive solution. If you’re entrenched in Windows, I don’t recommend the switch.
A more interesting option is to switch to a free or very low cost OS. Linux is the obvious winner here (though Chrome OS is interesting if you really want to be cutting edge) and Ubuntu is a surprisingly smooth experience nowadays, running super fast on even old lower-powered systems. Open source software offers up a wide range of software too, including an entire office suite, powerful email client and full-featured Web browser but the cost of switching to Linux is that it’s really more of a DIY culture so you won’t be able to just start it and ignore it for years on end as you could with Windows. Still, I run Linux on some older systems and it’s a great solution if you don’t mind getting digital oil on your hands occasionally.
Finally, the most likely solution of the options is to upgrade to a newer version of Windows. Might it too hit that EOL moment when it’s at the “end of life”? Sure, but so can any other OS, and the good news is that most of the software you have on your WinXP system will work just fine on Win7 too. Better, unlike 8, Windows 7 still has a Taskbar and Start Menu, both features that are likely engrained into your workflow on your computer.
There are other versions of Windows, including notably Vista, but you don’t want any of those. If you like new and can handle it, I actually like Windows 8 and its new style of interaction with the system, but lots of Win8 users are quite upset with the change to a more tablet-like touch-oriented user experience. Definitely try it before you go too far down that road.
If you do jump from WinXP to Win7, expect to pay about $100 for the new operating system (though it’s quite possible Microsoft will offer upgrade discounts, so have a close look or call the local Microsoft Store) and once you’ve updated, don’t panic. There are some big differences between XP and 7, including the Aero Desktop, which is far more attractive than the rather clunky WinXP user experience, a redesigned Start Menu which will take a bit of getting used to, especially for power users, a new Documents folder where all your personal files and data is stored, HomeGroup for the considerably improved home networking capabilities, and DirectX 11, which means you’ll have a ton more games you can play.
Really, the best thing you can do is buy a new computer. I hate to say that, but if you’re running a computer with an OS from 13 years ago, your computer is probably quite the antique too. For $300-$500 you can get some amazing new gear, whether a laptop or desktop. Can’t afford it? Then try to add more RAM to your computer before you upgrade. Newer operating systems want more memory. I recommend you check out Kingston to find out what’s available.
And good luck. Like moving from middle school to high school, the change will be scary but the end result is going to be well worth the hassles.