All things must come to an end. Especially technology.

As far as computers go, the vast majority of those used in households, schools, businesses and organizations around the world are running some form of Microsoft Windows.  Most versions are only around for a certain amount of years before the newer version comes out, and then support ends for the older version some time after.  One such version of Windows lasted through its four replacements, and while it still works just fine, it just might be time to upgrade.

Last Tuesday marked the end of an era. Windows XP, an operating system that was released in 2001, had it’s online support ended by Microsoft.  What this means is that there will be no more software or security updates developed and sent to the majority of its users at the consumer level.  Some businesses and government entities have paid millions to keep their XP machines secure for up to 2 more years, for various reasons, but Microsoft has required them to have an upgrade plan in place.

This also marks the end of related Microsoft software developed for XP.  There is no more support for any products under Microsoft Office 2003, and no more support for Internet Explorer 8. The current version is actually Internet Explorer 11, so that along with versions 9 and 10 were not even developed for Windows XP (one of the reasons I HIGHLY recommend using alternative web browsers like Firefox and Chrome).  Microsoft Security Essentials will still receive virus and malware scan definitions sent to it until next summer, but the program will constantly remind you in bright red that support for XP has ended.

So say your main computer is still running XP.  What are your options?  The most recommended option is to buy a new computer. Chances are, if your computer is running a 12 year old operating system, then your hardware (processor, hard drive, RAM) is also 6 to 12+ years old. Parts can be added and replaced inside of a PC, but only up to a certain point before some things just become incompatible. Laptops and tablets are much harder to upgrade. In some cases, it’s cheaper to buy a new system than to upgrade your current one. Computers cost a lot less than they did 12 years ago, and they also work much faster, have more features, and are more energy efficient. The current version of Microsoft Windows is 8.1. An Apple computer is also a nice alternative, but if you’re used to Windows then there’s a few things you’ll have to learn to do differently under the Mac OSX operating system.

Another option is to simply install a newer version of Windows that is still supported by Microsoft. Windows Vista came out in 2007, Windows 7 in 2009, Windows 8 in 2012, and Windows 8.1 was released last year. Depending on your hardware setup, this could be a good or bad option. Each version of Windows has low system requirements  just to be able to run, but those operating systems will work much better on systems with 7200+ RPM hard drives (or solid state drives), dual or quad core processors, at least 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, and a modern day graphics chip or separate graphics card. If your system doesn’t have anything close to that, it might be time for a new one.

Another option is to take a step away from Windows altogether and try one of the many versions of Linux. Linux has been around for a couple decades, and is quickly becoming a usable option for even basic computer users.  It was also used in the creation of the Android operating system, which is available on millions of phones, tablets, and other devices. It’s open-source, which means an individual, group of individuals, or a business can take the basic files and develop a full operating system or supporting software for it. Depending on the version, it will most likely have lower system requirements than the newer versions of Windows, the majority of your hardware will immediately work right after installation, there’s a very low chance of receiving a virus or malware, and best of all: it’s free. The Indian State of Tamil Nadu has elected to go this route instead of paying Microsoft to continue support, and the government of Munich, Germany, has passed out copies of Ubuntu to its citizens for free. Ubuntu is the most popular version of Linux, but there are others as well.

One last option is to continue to use XP. It’s still a good operating system even after 12 years of use. While not the safest option, the operating system has had over a decade of security patches and service packs, the last one being Service Pack 3 of 2008. XP users also only make up 21% of the rest of the computers online. While that’s still millions of users, it also means many more people have moved on. If you plan to keep business as usual, make sure your antivirus software is up to date, you’re using the latest versions of other software, you’re behind a firewall, and you’re using alternatives to now-defunct software.  Stop using Internet Explorer 8, and switch to a modern internet browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. It’s FAR safer that way, and web developers will also thank you for it since those browsers will show websites the way they are intended to be.

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  • Elizabeth Whitmire

    Security experts say XP I is still usable for those who don’t run as Admin. But why would anyone want to? Using XP is far from a good experience.