Microsoft is ending support Tuesday for Windows XP, which means the company won't be fixing any fresh problems that crop up with the 12-year-old operating system. "PCs running Windows XP after April 8, 2014, should not be considered to be truly protected," says a company statement.
An estimated quarter of PC users are still running XP, despite Microsoft's notices that this day would come. Part of the reason many users haven't migrated is Microsoft's uneven record of improving its operating systems as new ones roll out. Our Emily Siner explained in January:
"Vista was part of the problem. Microsoft's success with operating systems 'kind of goes up and then down historically,' says Stephen Baker, an analyst with NPD Group. While XP was undoubtedly a peak, Vista was widely regarded as a dud, so people who might have normally tried a new system held off. Windows 7 was more successful, but Windows 8, introduced in 2012, received a tepid reception amid a drop in PC sales.
"Microsoft now has a clear incentive to get its users to upgrade. It's expensive to update and support a decade-old operating system. By today's computing standards, XP is slow and outdated, and that makes Microsoft look bad."
So are you ready to do this, Microsoft users? (If you don't want to upgrade — and this is against Microsoft's recommendations — you could just continue running a subpar operating system, rely on third-party support and beef up your antivirus software. But this is a dodgy move.) Here are our tips if you're ready to make the switch:
- Choose your operating system upgrade. Windows 7 or Windows 8 both have support from Microsoft.
- Back up your files. You'll need to do a clean installation to upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8, which means this doesn't work like upgrading your iOS software for your phone, where data from your old phone can come over automatically. Eliminate programs you don't use anymore.
- Delete critical data. A malicious attack could find information like credit card and Social Security numbers.
- Update anti-malware software. Whether you're using Microsoft's version — which will be updated for Windows XP through July 2015 — or another company's, anti-malware software will be able to patch up some, but not all, security holes.
- Limit email use. For the love of all that is holy, don't open suspicious attachments.
- Disconnect your PC from the Internet if you don't need it online.
- Upgrade your PC. Unfortunately, most old computers running XP don't have the physical requirements to do this. Microsoft only condones upgrading or getting a new computer altogether.
You can find Microsoft's official tips here.