Windows XP has officially been marooned. As of April 8, Microsoft (MSFT) officially ended Windows XP support, leaving a lot of question marks behind for users of its venerable operating system.
Despite being 13 years old (with three major OS versions –Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8) released since, Windows XP remains the second most popular PC operating system in the world. Somewhere around half a billion computers are running the ancient OS.
But even with the last Windows XP update installed, they are now vulnerable to the malware and viruses that cyber criminals are preparing to unleash.
Apple (AAPL) Mac users have always been somewhat smug about their platform’s relative safety from these security issues, but if those 500 million computers get hit en masse with malware as has been predicted, Microsoft could find itself facing a public backlash over ending Windows XP support.
Regardless, the company drew a line in the sand and we are now over that line. If there’s a PC running Windows XP in your home or office, it’s time to take immediate measures to protect it and your data.
Windows XP Support Ends: Install the Latest Windows XP Update, Service Packs and Patches
It should go without saying that if you have a PC running Windows XP, it should have the latest service packs and patches installed. Then again, it also should go without saying that any of these computers should also have not just done a Windows XP update, but migrated to Windows 8.1 by now.
And we know how that went…
So it’s worth checking that the PC under the desk is actually up-to-date — no sense in making this any easier for the bad guys. Microsoft’s Windows XP support website has all the details on the final Windows XP service packs.
While you’re at it, get rid of Internet Explorer on that machine. If you need a web browser, a non-Microsoft version such as Firefox or Opera will have fewer OS-level access points for malware to exploit, and both are still offering Windows XP support — at least for now.
Windows XP Support Ends: Back Up Your Data
Another commonsense precaution. It’s one thing to have your data accessed by a criminal. It’s another degree of pain altogether for a virus to actually damage or delete it.
This can happen.
Backing up any data on a Windows XP computer is critical. If that PC gets hits by malware and the data is compromised, at least it won’t be gone for good if you have a copy stored on an external hard drive or in the cloud.
Windows XP Support Ends: Buy and Install Security Software
As part of its termination of Windows XP support, Microsoft is no longer proving Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows XP. It also has ceased providing security updates to XP computers with Security Essentials already installed.
Therefore, security for any PCs that haven’t undergone a Windows XP upgrade is now in your hands. That means investing in a good security software suite and installing it.
It won’t take long for viruses, trojans, worms and all sorts of malware targeting unprotected Windows XP computers to propagate, so the sooner you put regularly updated commercial security software on that PC, the better.
Turn on the PC’s firewall for added protection from Internet-based attacks.
Windows XP Support Ends: Update to Windows 8.1
Naturally, Microsoft was really hoping you would install Windows 8.1 when it ended Windows XP support. If your PC supports the latest operating system, this is probably the cheapest option given that Windows 8.1 retails for $120.
Not sure if your Windows XP computer is capable of running Windows 8.1? Microsoft has published a list of minimum specs on its Windows XP support page and included an upgrade tutorial.
If you bought the computer any time in the last few years, it should be more than capable of running the latest OS. An older machine might be technically capable of going through this Windows XP update to Windows 8.1, but performance might not be up to expectations.
Windows XP Support Ends: Buy a New PC
The easiest solution is to skip the Windows XP upgrade to Windows 8.1 on an existing PC (it’s probably an old box anyway) and just buy a new computer that already has Windows 8.1 installed.
Migrate your data from the old box to the new one (Microsoft is offering free data transfer software) and your problem is solved — at least until 2023, when Windows 8 extended support is scheduled to end.
Microsoft Stores are offering new Windows 8 PCs from manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Sony (SNE) starting at $249. A new PC is less expensive than it used to be, and with options like touchscreen capability, they make the most of Windows 8’s interface. They also have the latest Intel (INTC) energy-efficient CPUs for performance and longer portable battery life.
Windows XP Support Ends: Arrange a Custom-Support Agreement with Microsoft
This isn’t an option for your personal PC, but if your company is still relying on outdated software or IT delays that prevented a Windows XP update to Windows 8.1, Microsoft is offering custom Windows XP support solutions.
However, it’s costly to stick with the old: Gartner is estimating the price at as high as $200 per PC, per year.
Considering the number of companies that have moved to cloud computing solutions in order to cut their IT costs, having to fork over that kind of money to keep ancient PCs running seems like a nonstarter.
However, the costs of leaving those Windows XP computers exposed could be disastrously high, so this is the option of last resort for companies that left their Windows XP update project too late.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.