You’ve probably been getting the warnings popping up on your computer’s desktop and in your Microsoft Security Essentials dialogs for a few weeks, and you’ve been seeing the headlines for longer than that. If you have Facebook friends in the IT industry, doubtlessly they’ve been sharing articles for the past six to twelve months.
By now, you’ve realized that your Windows XP computer didn’t explode or stop working after the sunset of support, so what are the implications of continuing to use an unsupported operating system? For one, if you need to call Microsoft for support with any problems from this day forward, they’re not going to help you. If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t called Microsoft in the past dozen years, so you won’t miss the fact that they’re not going to be there going forward. Rest assured that for as long as you want to continue using XP, consultancies like Maverick Solutions will be there to help solve any problems you may have.
Without Microsoft support, however, there will be no more security patches, feature updates, bug-fixes, or driver updates. Presumably after 12 years, Microsoft has probably found and resolved most of the bugs. For all the current hardware in existence, drivers have already been published if they’re going to be. There will be no new Windows features, so today’s Windows XP is the best it’s ever going to get.
What about security? Hackers have been attacking technology for as long as people have been using technology, and nothing is going to change that. In the past, when Microsoft identified a vulnerability in Windows XP, they released a patch to correct it. The identification of vulnerabilities, however, is typically the result of analyzing exploitations of those vulnerabilities, after the fact. Just like medicine doesn’t create vaccinations before diseases are discovered, so, too, security experts don’t patch security holes until someone finds and exploits those holes. Even then, it takes time to develop solutions, and it takes time to distribute them to Windows users. If your computer was configured to automatically download and install Windows updates, it still might have taken a week or longer before your computer received and installed security patches. If your computer was configured otherwise, you might have never received such patches.
In fact, there are millions of bad guys attacking technology, and many fewer security experts defending us from them, so the good guys tend to apply a sort of triage when determining which holes to patch first. The ones which have the potential to cause the most widespread damage are remediated first, and the more-obscure or less-harmful ones are left on the back burner. Third-party anti-malware software has the same shortcomings, so relying solely on operating system patches and anti-malware software is never the best way to protect your systems.
The fact that Microsoft is stopping support for XP and moving their security experts to the later operating systems is actually a good sign for Windows XP users, in a way. Just as security experts try to make the most of their time by remediating the most-widespread, most-harmful malware, hackers economize on their time, too, by attacking the most common software. If less than one percent of today’s computers still use 1980s Microsoft DOS, there’s no vig in finding vulnerabilities; there would be terribly few places to exploit those vulnerabilities and it would take time to even locate those systems. Microsoft moving its security experts’ mitigation efforts from Windows XP to the later operating systems is indicative of the increasing market-share of those operating systems, which will also attract more hackers away from Windows XP.
As a strategy, however, the best anti-malware idea continues to be effective, and continues to be free: don’t use an administrator account as your everyday user account. The second-best strategy will also continue to be free and effective for a little longer: install and update Microsoft Security Essentials. Microsoft announced they will continue to offer it to Windows XP users through July. If you need help employing either of these strategies, seek out a local consultancy like ours to come set them up for you.
So if everything is going to keep working, why would anyone want to upgrade to a new operating system? The vast majority of technology consultants has been touting security concerns as the reason to upgrade, but we at Maverick Solutions believe that functionality and features are more likely to make you take the plunge.
Windows XP only supports Internet Explorer up to version 8, but later versions of the operating system support later versions of IE – it’s up to version 11 already. You may have noticed that some of the more interactive Websites are already acting sluggish or buggy in IE8. Facebook crashes frequently, for example. Other than upgrading Windows, you could add a third-party browser, such as Firefox or Chrome, but bear in mind that every additional piece of software you install takes up room on your hard drive, which makes your machine operate somewhat less efficiently.
New hardware is less and less likely to be supported by Windows XP, so when you upgrade your multifunction printer or buy whatever technology of movie player comes out after Blue ray, you may not be able to install it at all, or even if it does install, you may not be able to access all of its features. New software will stop being developed for Windows XP, too, so at some point your annual tax-prep package of TurboTax or Tax Cut, for example, will not be available in an XP flavor. If you’re a gamer, you’re not reading this article – you’ve already upgraded years ago.
Windows XP also isn’t quite as interoperable with Windows Phone technology as are the newer versions of the operating system. While Windows Phone isn’t a huge slice of the cell phone market today, we at Maverick Solutions believe that it will increase as Apple without its visionary, Steve Jobs, will stagnate. Android will capture the lion’s share of those jumping ship from Apple, but Windows Phone will see more sales, as well.
Even if you can live without any of these improvements on a day-to-day basis, at some point when your power supply or hard drive fail, you may find it difficult to justify the cost of repairing your old system rather than investing that money into something newer. Bearing in mind that those moving parts absolutely won’t last forever, and that your computer is definitely going to break at some point, planning your upgrade gracefully before then is probably a better strategy than recovering from the catastrophe after it happens.
Microsoft Windows XP was developed in 2001 and fully released in 2002, so it’s been around for a dozen years. Since then, Microsoft has released several other operating systems: Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8, and they’ve recently updated Windows 8 to 8.1. In fact, Windows 9 is currently under development, and probably being prepared for release within the next year or two. If you’re still using Windows XP, it’s had a good run, and you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
When you’re finally ready to upgrade, the first thing you need to know is that any of the operating systems after Windows XP are more demanding of computer resources, so you’re probably not going to be able to upgrade the operating system on the same hardware like you may have done from Windows 2000 to XP; you’re going to need a new computer. Windows Vista was so poorly received by the market that Microsoft had to rapidly release its successor, Windows 7, which was much better-accepted. Consequently, don’t even consider Windows Vista. You’re left with basically three choices: Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1, or wait for Windows 9.
Windows 7 has a somewhat new look and feel, but largely operates similarly to Windows XP. Things are in roughly the same places, and similar tools control similar features and functions. If you want to transition into an operating system in which you can rapidly be efficient, despite its age, Windows 7 may be the way for you to go. It still has a desktop, and something like a Start menu and a task bar, and its applications still have title bars, menu bars, toolbars, and status bars. It’s no longer being sold by Microsoft, but third-party resellers still have it available in boxes or preinstalled on PCs. Although it’s the oldest of the post-XP operating systems, which means it will be the next one to sunset, once you upgrade to Windows 7, your new hardware will support Windows 8, so your next upgrade could be performed in-place, whenever you’re ready for that. For the vast majority of businesses that need to function with minimal training downtime and loss of productivity from unfamiliarity, Windows 7 may be the best next-step.
Windows 8/8.1 is a completely new paradigm in desktop operating systems. It has the look and feel of a smart phone or tablet, and is in fact probably better suited to such environments. Don’t even consider getting Windows 8 without a touchscreen – you’ll miss out on too much of the operating system’s wow. With a touchscreen, it will take a little getting used to, but once you get past the learning curve, it does become intuitive, and you can be productive with it. It has a Windows desktop, but not as the main focus of the operating system – it looks like an afterthought, just bolted on to retain compatibility with executable applications. The true vision of the operating system is for it to use apps available for download from the Microsoft Store, similar to the way iPhones and iPads use apps from iTunes. In fact, Windows 8 RT is a flavor which only offers compatibility with such apps – no executables. It’s cheaper than Windows 8 Pro, but before you go that route, research the availability of apps for whatever you need apps to do for you. Windows 8 Pro will be the operating system of choice for the vast majority of users taking the Windows 8 plunge.
Windows 9 is still in development, so all we have are rumors about it. With the recent release of Windows 8.1, not even Microsoft’s marketing guys have started fluffing Windows 9 for us. The consensus appears to be that it will have a more centrally-focused desktop like XP or 7, rather than being primarily targeted for apps like 8. This is supported by the history of operating system development, too. Windows ME brought a new look and feel to Windows 98, but didn’t sell well – Windows 2000 tempered it with more of what the market wanted. Windows Vista brought a new security paradigm to Windows XP, but was too overbearing; Windows 7 tempered it with what the market was ready to accept. Windows 8 is a more interactive, visual, touchy-feely environment, and app-centered, but since the market hasn’t fully-embraced it, Windows 9 may well be a tempering of it with consumer expectations. If you need to upgrade sooner, this isn’t an option for you, but if you can hold onto XP for another year or two, you may be able to bypass Windows Vista, 7, and 8, and jump straight to 9.
If you need help strategizing how to proceed, schedule a consultation with a qualified specialist to discuss budgets & requirements and the options & costs to meet them. Maverick Solutions performs this type of planning as part of its routine work with all of its IT consulting clients, and would be happy to consult with you about it, too. Contact us to discuss or to schedule an appointment.