Although Microsoft officially ends its support for Windows XP today, there is no need to panic. Your computer will not immediately shut itself down, or spontaneously self-destruct in a puff of smoke. In fact, you probably won’t notice any real difference at first.
Microsoft has been pushing notifications to XP users to notify them of the support end date for the last few weeks. These notifications can be turned off, but don’t say Microsoft didn’t warn you.
While XP will live on for a little while longer in a handful of giant corporations, government departments, banks, and other organizations that are hopeless at doing anything quickly or efficiently, there are no more stays of execution for the OS for the overwhelming majority of users. Those users still exist in great numbers; according to the latest figures from Net Applications, almost 28% of the world’s PCs still run Windows XP.
If you’re one of those people, just what are your options now?
Upgrade to a newer version of Windows
Perhaps the simplest path to bring your computing experience up to date is to simply install a newer operating system on your PC. However, some Windows XP systems may not meet the minimum requirements for either Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, so be sure to check that your PC ticks all the requisite boxes before you make your purchase.
Updating to Windows 7 Professional offers one advantage for businesses using proprietary applications designed for Windows XP too – especially important for smaller businesses that have not yet made the leap to newer OS versions. Windows 7 Pro includes an ‘XP Mode’, which runs a Windows XP virtual machine on a Win 7 PC, enabling users to run legacy applications via the newer OS. (Note: Windows 8 does not include ‘XP Mode’.) However, with the termination of Windows XP support today, Microsoft now advises "that you only use Windows XP Mode if your PC is disconnected from the Internet."
Many businesses have delayed upgrading their Windows installations because of the prohibitive costs of updating critical line-of-business applications designed for a previous generation. XP Mode is not a practical long-term solution to avoid updating these business apps to newer standards, but it may at least provide some breathing room for companies updating their XP-based IT infrastructure.
Buy a new Windows PC
Since Windows XP’s launch, Microsoft has pushed out three major operating system releases (Vista, 7 and 8), which should give you some sense of how much the world has moved on since XP’s glory days. PC hardware has advanced considerably too since the last PCs were sold with XP pre-installed.
It might be time, therefore, to consider investing in a new PC. Windows 8.1 systems are, of course, what Microsoft and its partners would like you to buy, perhaps an all-in-one with a nice big integrated touchscreen and other bells and whistles that your wheezing XP system could only dream of.
The latest Windows 8.1 Update – released today – also introduces many new features designed to make things easier for keyboard and mouse users, so the process of adjusting to the newer OS shouldn’t be too traumatizing for those that prefer to do things the ol’ fashioned way.
Discounts are available, too, in some markets, for those that are keen to get a new device. In the US, for example, Microsoft has been offering $100 off any Windows device costing $599 or more, for those ditching their XP machines.
Try something a bit different
You could, of course, seize the opportunity to go wild and embrace one of the other tech platforms that have emerged since Windows XP ruled the roost. The past decade has seen a major shift in the way we use devices, a move away from the confines of the desktop to more mobile computing solutions.
From Apple’s iPad to Google’s Android and beyond, there are plenty of choices for those keen to spread their wings and fly away from the Windows nest. Samsung, in particular, has been working hard to boost the professional credentials of its Android range, with beefed-up security through its KNOX platform, and the launch of its Galaxy Pro tablets.
Those who prefer more ‘conventional’ form factors can look to Google’s streamlined Chrome OS, which is available on notebooks and desktops that might feel more familiar to XP users. A Chromebook can be purchased for as little as $200, but you should make an effort to try one out before you buy – many tech retailers now offer Chromebooks, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find an in-store demo model.
Stick with Windows XP
If you’re feeling particularly bold, you could opt to stick with Windows XP indefinitely. This, however, would be a spectacularly stupid move, so don’t do it.
Microsoft will continue to provide basic security protection for Windows XP through its Security Essentials suite and the anti-malware Malicious Software Removal Tool; both of these will continue to be updated through to July 14, 2015.
But more fundamental issues – the kind that require Microsoft to issue patches, hotfixes and major security updates – will not be addressed, and over time, this will make your device, and everything on it, more vulnerable to attack.
If you do stick with Windows XP, don’t come back to us crying when it all goes wrong, because we’ll have no choice but to slap you repeatedly with a big wet fish for not listening to us in the first place.
Screw the future – look to the past instead
Ahead of its time, this device featured its own ribbon, long before Microsoft introduced its version to Office. That said, there are some security concerns to consider – particularly given that the ribbon keeps a very visible log of all of your system activity.
...and if you're still enjoying looking back to the past, take a stroll down Memory Lane with us, in a (very) brief history of Windows XP.
Image credits: 'Bliss' wallpaper with monster via notefashion.com; Windows XP pop-up notification via PCPitStop; Dell PC via cheappcs.wordpress.com; typewriter image edited from an original at thewolfepackchronicles.blogspot.com. Images of Acer, Lenovo and Microsoft devices via those respective manufacturers.