IT for Donuts: what to do with your Windows XP computers

By: John McGarvey

Date: 28 November 2014

IT for Donuts is our regular feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.

Today, we explain what you need to do if you're still using Microsoft's venerable operating system, Windows XP.

No more XP support

In April, Microsoft discontinued all support for Windows XP. This means the company no longer issues updates to fix security vulnerabilities.

As a result, Windows XP computers can be a tempting target for hackers, who know newly-discovered problems won't have been fixed.

Indeed, a bug discovered earlier this month may leave Windows XP machines open to attack.

Unfortunately, Windows XP use remains high. By most measures it's still the world's second most-used operating system, despite being 13 years old.

If there's a Windows XP computer in your business, it could be the weak spot that lets hackers in. Read on and we'll explain how to get rid of it.

It's time to stop using XP

If you do still rely on a Windows XP computer, it really is time to stop using it. That's true no matter whether your whole company uses XP, or if you just have a single machine running it.

Security risks aside, there are other reasons to upgrade too. For instance:

  • Modern operating systems offer modern features. The world has changed since 2001. Newer operating systems make it easier to access online services and can work more seamlessly with mobile devices.
  • Your computer might be getting on. It's usually older computers that are running Windows XP. If yours is over five years old, there's a higher-than-average chance it could suffer a hardware failure, too.

Still not clear? Just in case you haven't already got the message: it's time to ditch Windows XP.

Moving to a newer version of Windows

Most people will find it easiest to move to a newer version of Windows.

You could take the opportunity to switch to an Apple Mac or try another operating system like Linux, but for simplicity let's assume you want to stick with what you know.

First of all, consider whether you want to replace your computer as well. If it's more than three years old, this is probably a good idea.

If you want to keep your current computer, use the Microsoft Windows Update Assistant to make sure it's capable of running the latest version of Windows. Most computers sold in the last couple of years should be ok.

Once you've decided whether or not to keep your current computer, you need to choose which version of Windows to upgrade to:

  • Windows 8 is the latest version and is widely-available. Some people have complained about its redesigned interface, but you can always use third-party software to make it function more like 'classic' Windows.

Most new PCs come with Windows 8 installed, or you can buy it from Microsoft and other retailers.

  • Windows 7 is the previous version. Although five years old, some companies are sticking with it because it's proven reliable. Security updates will continue until 2020, so it has life in it yet.

As Microsoft is keen to move users to Windows 8, it can be hard to find Windows 7 for sale. If you're set on it, speak to your IT supplier.

Check your software, too

Before you go ahead and upgrade, double-check that your business software works with newer versions of Windows.

Standard programs should be fine, but custom software or unusual packages might not have been updated for more recent versions of Windows.

If software compatibility is an issue, don't bury your head in the sand. Even if you disconnect your Windows XP system from the internet, at some point it will crash or break down.

Finally, don't be afraid to seek help. The risks involved in using Windows XP are growing. The longer you leave it, the more vulnerable you are. Give your local IT supplier a bell and you could have everything sorted in a day or two.

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