Windows XP won’t be officially supported for much longer. Sure, you could keep using it — it won’t just stop working one day. It will just become more insecure over time as Microsoft and everyone else stops supporting it.

Let’s face it, Windows XP has had a good run. It has been officially supported for more than a decade. If you’re still using Windows XP, you should be making plans to upgrade to something that will be supported.

Why You Should Care

We’ve already explained why it’s time to let go of Windows XP and what will happen when Microsoft finally stops supporting it on April 8, 2014.

In a nutshell, Windows XP is old. It doesn’t support modern hardware properly and it isn’t as secure as modern versions of Windows because it doesn’t have User Account Control and other modern security features. (Forget what you may have heard about UAC in the Windows Vista days — it’s better now.)

As time goes on, Windows XP will become increasingly insecure and both hardware and software vendors will stop supporting it. Try using modern hardware or software on Windows 98, Windows Me, or even Windows 2000 — even Firefox no longer supports Windows 2000. Windows XP is next in line for the chopping block.

RELATED: Online Safety: Why You Should Give Up Windows XP For Good (Updated)

Where You Can Go From Here

Perhaps you’ve heard about how awkward Windows 8 can be on traditional computers — If you’re using Windows XP, we’re assuming you’re not using one of Microsoft’s Windows XP tablets. Or perhaps you’re perfectly happy with your existing software and just use your computer for very basic things, so you don’t see the point in paying Microsoft an upgrade fee.

Here are your options:

Windows 7: If you’re still using Windows XP, there’s a good chance you won’t want to go through the shock of upgrading to Windows 8. Windows 7 isn’t the latest, but it’s the most widely used version of Windows and will be supported until January 14, 2020. Even today, many businesses are upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 — not Windows 8.

If you’re a typical home user, getting Windows 7 may take a bit of extra footwork. New computers come with Windows 8, and your local PC store probably doesn’t sell Windows 7. If you want to get a boxed copy of Windows 7 to upgrade to, you may want to get it online — boxed copies of Windows 7 are still sold on websites like Amazon, although you probably won’t find them in many PC stores.

Windows 8: Windows 8 can be rather awkward on traditional PCs without touch screens, especially at first. That said, it’s not completely unbearable. It actually offers many desktop features that are an upgrade over Windows 7 and you can hide much of the new “Modern” environment. Windows 8.1 is also on the way, ready for official release on October 17, 2013, and it’s much more comfortable to use on a more traditional desktop or laptop PC.

Windows 8 has the advantage of being easier to find. You can go into any computer shop and buy a boxed copy of Windows 8 or a new computer with Windows 8. Microsoft even sells Windows 8 in downloadable form.

Desktop Linux: Unlike Windows 7 or 8, desktop Linux distributions like Ubuntu are completely free. If you only use your computer for web browsing and other basic tasks, desktop Linux is a good option to seriously consider. In addition to being secure, modern, and free, it’s immune to Windows malware. It’s even possible to install older versions of Microsoft Office on Linux.

If you have an older computer, you may want to try the more lightweight Xubuntu or the extremely lightweight Lubuntu instead of the heavier standard Ubuntu system. If you’re going with Ubuntu, you’ll probably want to stick with the long term service (LTS) release, which is supported for five years with security updates. We’ve previously covered how to switch from Windows XP to a more secure Linux system.

iPads, Macs, Chromebooks, and More: Okay, so the above options aren’t the only ones. You could go buy an iPad (or an Android tablet) and a keyboard for it, a Chromebook, or even a new Mac computer if you want to pick a laptop up at the store but just aren’t sold on Windows 8. These are all valid upgrade paths, but they require purchasing new hardware and replacing your existing computer.

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to perform an upgrade install from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8. You’ll have to perform a clean install. Luckily, clean installs are the ideal way to install a new operating system.

But I Have Windows XP Applications!

You may still have important Windows XP applications. If your entire business is going to grind to a halt because you can’t run an old application on Windows XP, you can still upgrade your computer to a more modern operating system.

This is why Windows 7 — the Professional version, at least — contains Windows XP mode, which allows you to run applications in a special Windows XP system. Essentially, your computer will run an isolated copy of Windows XP where your Windows XP applications can run.

Windows XP mode isn’t included with Windows 8, but you can set up something just like Windows XP mode with VMware Player on Windows 8. You can even use VMware Player — or another virtual machine tool, such as VirtualBox — to run Windows XP and your Windows XP applications on other operating systems, such as the Home version of Windows 7 or desktop Linux.

RELATED: Our Look at XP Mode in Windows 7

What have you upgraded to from Windows XP, or what do you plan on upgrading to? Do you plan on taking the risk by continuing to use Windows XP anyway?

Image Credit: PoloGoomba on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
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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