Microsoft will be ending support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014 after 12 and a half years of supporting it. Microsoft has gone out of their way to extend support on several occasions, but the 2014 deadline looks like the final one.

We’ve already explained why you should leave Windows XP behind. It’s still widely used, however — it’s the second-most popular operating system after Windows 7, with around double the market share of all Macs combined, according to various statistics.

Windows XP’s Current Support

“Mainstream support” for Windows XP ended in 2009, but “extended support” is still continuing. Microsoft is still creating security patches and hotfixes for Windows XP. Windows XP users may be using an operating system that’s over 12 years old, but Microsoft is still writing security patches for them and sending them out via Windows Update.

Microsoft also offers both free and paid technical support for Windows XP, which can be particularly useful for businesses.

At the moment, you can kind of get away with using Windows XP — as long as you don’t want to use new hardware or software that doesn’t support it.

What Happens on April 8, 2014

Starting on April 8, 2014, no new security patches for Windows XP will be produced. Windows XP will remain vulnerable as new patches are found, and Microsoft will advise you upgrade your operating system. Microsoft will also no longer offer any technical support for Windows XP.

Windows XP systems won’t stop functioning. You can continue to use them and even download old security patches, but no new ones will be produced.

As Microsoft drops support for XP, the industry will follow. Much new software already isn’t necessarily tested to work on Windows XP, and new hardware may not have drivers for Windows XP at all. As Microsoft drops support, the amount of software and hardware that doesn’t support XP will grow.

How often do you see new hardware and software supporting Windows 98? XP will become the new Windows 98 — an orphaned, outdated operating system with no official or third-party support.

Security patches are crucially important, particularly in enterprises that still use XP. Migrating to Windows 7 (or Windows 8) is the smart move for people that are still clinging to XP.

If You Still Need XP

You shouldn’t keep using XP. It will become more and more unsecure over time as more security vulnerabilities are found and not patched. Finding new hardware that supports XP will be difficult if your current hardware breaks down or needs to be upgraded. New software may stop supporting XP and you may be stuck with older, outdated, and also unsecure versions of software. Current versions of Mozilla Firefox no longer support Windows 98 — Firefox users on Windows 98 are using an unsecure version of Firefox.

If you have old software that only works on XP, you should consider upgrading to a modern version of Windows and running Windows XP in a virtual machine. Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions of Windows 7 include a “Windows XP Mode” feature for easily running a Windows XP virtual machine. This will help increase your security by allowing you to use a modern, supported, secure operating system on your computer while confining the unsecure, unsupported XP to a virtual machine.

You should already be using antivirus software on your Windows XP systems, but this will become even more important when Windows XP starts to become the security equivalent of swiss cheese. Some security companies may jump in with solutions to secure increasingly vulnerable legacy XP systems, but you’re much better off upgrading.

If your organization has a Windows XP deployment, you should already be working on migrating to a new version of Windows. If you’re a home user, you should be looking at upgrading, too. Most longtime Windows XP users generally agree that Windows 7 is a worthy upgrade (Windows 8 is more controversial), and Microsoft will be supporting Windows 7 until 2020.

Let’s be honest: You won’t find an operating system vendor that supports their desktop operating system for as long as Microsoft supported XP. But, if you’re really upset, you can always switch to Linux instead. Just leave XP behind!

Image Credit: Basheem on Flickr (modified)

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Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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