How to survive the Windows XP apocalypse

Windows is ending its support of its XP operating system. The move will compromise the security of many computers worldwide. Here's what to do if your computer is still running XP.

 It's the day you've all been dreading, Windows XP users. 

Don't know why you should be worried? I'll let Microsoft break the news

That's right, today is the last day that Microsoft will be providing support for Windows XP. What does that mean to those of you still using the operating system? Microsoft puts it bluntly:

An unsupported version of Windows will no longer receive software updates from Windows Update. These include security updates that can help protect your PC from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software, which can steal your personal information.

Windows XP has been on the market for more than 12 years. So Microsoft ending support won't have a huge impact, right? People have moved on to the latest, greatest operating system, right? Wrong. 

As Ars Technica points out, as of last week, 28 percent of web users worldwide still use Windows XP. And don't think this is lost on the people trying wreak havoc on your computer. Starting tomorrow, "you can be sure that hackers and malware writers will focus on exploits aimed at compromising all of the XP computers out there," CNET writes.

And it's not just a problem because your personal information could be compromised. It could also impact everyone else because, according to Peter Bright, "compromised XP installations will be recruited into botnets, taking commands from remote systems to perform such tasks as sending spam and participating in denial of service attacks."

(Not sure you're computer is running on Windows XP? There's a website for that.)

You're not running XP? Congratulations, you can stop reading this post. 

You're running XP? Here's what you can do:

1. UPDATE NOW. The most obvious option is to upgrade your operating system to Windows 7 or 8, which is still supported by Microsoft. But not all computers, especially those with older hardware, will be able to handle the newer operating systems. (You can check here.) But even if your computer is compatible with a newer operating system, that doesn't mean it's the preferable option. Instead of shelling out the money on a new OS for an old computer, you might just want to just go with option #2.

2. Buy a new computer. It's the easy, but most expensive, way out. But at least you'll know you're getting the latest operating system with hardware that can handle it. 

3. Try a free OS. If you're really attached to your computer, don't have the money to upgrade your OS or buy a new computer, or just want to try something new, this is my favorite option. Install a free, open-source OS, like UbuntuLubuntu (great for really old computers), or another Linux-based OS to replace XP. I chose to do this after my five-year-old laptop running on Windows XP seemed to be on its last leg. After making the switch, my computer was much faster, provided far fewer headaches, and gave me a few more years of productivity before I finally decided to upgrade my computer. Here are some tips for those of you looking to make the switch.

4. Don't update, but keep yourself (and others) as safe as possible. If you are one of the brave few who has read through this entire post and has decided, for some crazy reason, to continue running Windows XP, ZDNet has some helpful tips for staying as safe as possible, including:

  • Avoiding Internet Explorer;
  • Upgrading third-party software;
  • Turning on the Windows XP Firewall;
  • And updating everything you can, constantly.

5. You should probably just update now. 

This list is mostly aimed at individuals. But some businesses running their computers on XP face similar, but more complicated challenges, in switching from XP. Here's what you can do if your business is still using XP.

Photo: Flickr/Travelin' Librarian

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