Microsoft won’t be releasing new security patches for Windows XP come April 8th, 2014, and they’re making sure all Windows XP users know it. You’re on your own after this point — no more security updates for Windows XP!

The Windows XP End of Support pop-up will appear once per month, starting March 8. This pop-up is designed to ensure every Windows XP user knows they’re on their own and Microsoft is no longer protecting them.

What Does End of Support Mean?

Microsoft has supported Windows XP with security updates for 13 years. Whenever a critical security bug is found, Microsoft patches it and releases the fix to you via Windows Update. This helps ensure your computer is as secure as possible.

After the end of support date, Microsoft will no longer be patching security holes in Windows XP. When an attacker finds a security hole in the Windows XP operating system, they’ll be able to keep exploiting that hole until the last Windows XP PC disconnects from the Internet. Over time, Windows XP systems will become more and more insecure, with more and more known and unpatched security holes. Antivirus software will help a bit, but no antivirus software is perfect. It’s important to use a security strategy containing multiple layers of protection — antivirus is one, but using patched, secure software is another.

Over time, third-party software developers will stop supporting Windows XP with their own software, too. For the moment, most software developers will continue to support Windows XP. However, just like you can’t use modern Windows software on Windows 98, you’ll one day be unable to use modern Windows software on Windows XP. Windows XP had a good run, but modern versions of Windows are better and more secure.

RELATED: Microsoft is Ending Support for Windows XP in 2014: What You Need to Know

What Can I Upgrade To?

End of support means it’s time to upgrade from Windows XP. If you don’t like the look of Windows 8, you don’t have to upgrade to Microsoft’s latest “touch-first” version of Windows. You can still buy copies of Windows 7 and upgrade your Windows XP PC to Windows 7. Windows 7 is considered a worthy successor to Windows XP after the stumble of Windows Vista, and Windows 7 will be supported with security fixes until January 14, 2020. If you’re upgrading to Windows 8, Windows 8 will be supported with security fixes until January 10, 2023! This information is available on Microsoft’s Windows lifecycle fact sheet page.

Of course, Windows licenses are so expensive to buy that you may want to consider buying a new computer rather than paying $100 for a new copy of Windows and installing it on an old, slow computer.

Paying for Windows isn’t the only option, either. You may want to consider installing Ubuntu or a lightweight version of Ubuntu like Lubuntu. These Linux-based desktop operating systems are completely free to use and will provide you with security updates for years to come. If you just use that old Windows XP computer to browse the web and don’t need any Windows-specific software, Ubuntu is a good, free alternative.

RELATED: Windows XP Users: Here Are Your Upgrade Options

But I Still Need Windows XP!

Some people will still need Windows XP for those old business applications that don’t work on modern versions of Windows. If you still need Windows XP for some reason or another, you should try to make it as secure as possible:

  • Disconnect It: If you need a Windows XP desktop application that doesn’t require Internet access, disconnect your Windows XP PC from the network and use it entirely offline.
  • Run XP in a Virtual Machine: You can run Windows XP in a virtual machine on a modern version of Windows, such as Windows 7 or 8. Professional editions of Windows 7 even include Windows XP Mode, which allows you to set up a Windows XP virtual machine without having to buy a separate Windows XP license. Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP Mode or Windows XP in virtual machines either after April 8, 2014, but it’s more secure to confine Windows XP to a virtual machine than to use it as your main operating system.
  • Use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome: Both of these browsers will continue to be supported with security fixes on Windows XP into at least 2015.  Internet Explorer 8, however, will be unsupported. If you need Internet Explorer 8 for a specific website, you should use IE only for that website and use the other browsers for everything on the web.
  • Install an Antivirus: An antivirus won’t protect you completely, but it’s a lot better than using an insecure operating system with no protection. Be sure your antivirus is currently receiving updates — you don’t want to use an old, expired copy of a paid antivirus program.

Following standard computer security best practices will help, too. For example, you should uninstall the terrible, insecure Java browser plug-in if it’s on your Windows XP system.

RELATED: Basic Computer Security: How to Protect Yourself from Viruses, Hackers, and Thieves

Yes, it’s time to upgrade from Windows XP. It’s been 13 years and Microsoft has even extended support for Windows XP in the past. If Microsoft continued extending support, many customers would never upgrade.

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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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