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

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Most geeks will tell you it’s well past time to get rid of XP and upgrade to newer, safer operating systems. It can be tough to explain, so keep reading this list of real world reasons to let XP go.

Maybe you’re not sure why you should upgrade to a newer operating system. Maybe you’ve tried to explain it to friends but can’t quite explain why they should. Read our reasoning below or join the conversation with your own experiences—whether you’re a Windows user or not, it’s time to put XP out to pasture.

Happy 10th Birthday, XP: You’re (Probably) The Least Secure OS

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It’s a scary world out there, and for-profit cybercriminal thugs are filling P2P networks and the internet with more malicious software by the day. Even something as simple as receiving email can bring infections into your computer, and there’s a huge library of malware and viruses mostly focused at taking down XP and stealing your information. Because XP is so old (10 years as of August 2011) malicious developers have had more time to create software targeting it, and while Microsoft has been able to patch some of the many security problems with the aging operating system, the fact remains that they simply can’t get them all. And as far as we can tell, all platforms, including distros of Linux, OS X, and newer versions of Windows, like Vista and Windows 7 (and now Windows 8!) are all more secure by many factors. Let’s briefly talk about why XP has become so insecure.

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The nature of software is timely—it fits into the needs of the time it’s created, and XP was created for a simpler world of tech. The screenshot above is how Microsoft.com looked when XP was first released—formatted to fit on a screen only 640 pixels wide, it showcases Internet Explorer 6, a browser reviled for being non compliant and behind the times, as new product.

Smartphones were more or less unheard of, laptops were a luxury, and tablet computers like the iPad still seemed like a science fiction fantasy. XP was created for the needs of a simpler consumer, and performed admirably with changing needs, as more and more home users started getting computers. However, at a certain point, only so many band-aids and fixes are going to keep things going—to properly address the reality of today’s security needs, the problems need to be addressed from the ground up.

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Here’s a metaphor. You might be able to drive a car that was built years and years ago, and even keep it in good working condition if you were a clever mechanic. But that car was made in a time when fewer people drove the roads and had less safety features to keep drivers and families safe on more crowded roads. Newer cars also benefit from years of engineering knowledge built on top of the mistakes of those older cars, and have safety features and more fuel efficient engines for a world with rising gasoline prices. XP fits into the computing world in much the same way—it doesn’t properly address the problems of today and can pose a definite danger to the user, while giving an illusion of security.

It’s Becoming Less Secure: Support and Security Patches Are Ending

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Even with the landscape of malware looking pretty bleak for XP (the data above released 2011 from 2010 statistics) the future of the aging operating system is looking worse and worse. Windows XP System Pack 2 was discontinued and extended support stopped as of July 2010, with XP System Pack 3 extended support ending as of April 2014. Mainstream support for XP ended years ago in April 2009, with only critical security updates being offered in Extended support. When these dry up, XP will continue to have layers of its security chipped away, with more and more holes found in its browsers and basic functions. This is a very big deal; in a short period of time, XP will be completely abandoned, and huge flaws discovered by malware developers will never be fixed.

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Microsoft has to protect the interests of their users (it is in their best interest), but supporting an OS as old as XP will only become more and more expensive over time, and distract from improving current products and creating the next line. So MS will unlikely be reversing their decision to terminate support for XP, nor can anyone expect neverending support for their newer operating systems. Can you continue to use XP? Sure, but with more malware than ever, it’s never been more dangerous to surf on any version of Windows. XP will become, by far, the most vulnerable platform to connect to the internet to. Coincidentally, Windows 7, like most modern operating systems, has a long list of features meant to help tackle this problem of security—Windows 7 is far better prepared for the modern world of malware and viruses. If you’re a die-hard Windows user, you’ll be interested to see this list of features Windows 7 offers to help keep users safe.

The World Is Leaving It Behind

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When XP was released, USB 2.0 was not supported, RAM limits were capped at 4GB, and it would only support hard drives of about 137 GB, with some drives only recognized at 127 GB. At the time, this might have seemed pretty ridiculously large. Modern drives are almost always 500 GB or more to accommodate large libraries of movies and music; drives now are so large and cheap that they often cost as little as $0.05 per GB. Five cents! XP era computers weren’t expected to do quite so much of this, and the need has evolved, partly as a way to market PCs to a wider audience.

XP’s  64-bit  edition actually does support 64 bit processors, which many of us are transitioning to. But most users of XP are using the 32 bit version, and XP64 remains fairly rare even today. This 32 bit version can be installed on many 64 bit PCs, but will not take advantage of the newer technology. But as new video cards, hardware, and technologies are developed, XP will not be updated to take advantage of them. While many users won’t see the geeky need to stay on the cutting edge, using only the newest and best, XP users will stay frozen in time: vulnerable to new attacks, unable to use new technology, bound to old computers and hardware.

Are You Serious? XP Was Three Major Versions of Windows Ago!

Vista was released several years ago and was largely panned by geeks and casual users alike. Despite the many problems the new operating system had, it was still a newer, more modern operating system than XP, and at this point, actually is a better, safer option for Windows users than XP is. Windows 7 is very widely adopted, and now Windows 8 had been released as a developer preview and will be released before too long.

The world has moved on, and XP simply can’t.

One Last Look: The World When XP Was Released

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Ten years is a ridiculously long period of time for an operating system. To further make the point of how old XP is, let’s take a look at how the world looked in the summer of 2001, when XP was released. This was one of the PC games everyone was talking about in 2001. Here are the minimum system requirements for this game, Max Payne:

  • 450 MHz CPU
  • 96 MB RAM
  • 16 MB video card
  • 4X CD-ROM drive, DirectX 8.0

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For those of you that don’t play a lot of games, here’s something more modern to compare to, the very recently released game Rage, and its minimum requirements:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo or Equivalent AMD
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Hard Disk Space: 25GB
  • Video Card: GeForce 8800, Radeon HD 4200

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These were three of the summer movies released mere months before Windows XP.

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AI: Artificial Intelligence starred a young Haley Joel Osment, shown above left. This (above right) is how he looks today.

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YouTube, Gmail and even MySpace didn’t exist when XP was released. They were all released after Windows XP.

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So was Firefox, Ubuntu Linux, and the first iPod, which was released later that year. In a world where the fifth major update to the iPhone has just been released, nobody should be left using an operating system that pre-dates the first iPod.

From the Comments

Let’s address some of the comments about this article. This article was intended for readers to share with their less geeky friends, but evidently many of you are die hard XP fans! Here are some thoughts on your comments, in an attempt to expand on this article’s content.

Brian Mills: But regarding the chart, all it proves is the obvious truth that Windows 7 is more secure than XP (just as it is also more secure than Vista); it does not logically follow that XP (or Vista) is therefore so insecure that readers should immediately dump it, as your strongly-worded conclusion suggests.

XP is statistically more dangerous than any other OS in the market as there is more malware developed for it. It also has security holes that Microsoft can’t allocate the resources to fix. It’s basically the biggest target out there and support is running out fast. Every day a user continues to use XP is a day closer to a malware attack, rootkit, or keylogger that goes unnoticed. It bothers me because so many people are cavalier about malware. Patched or not, XP is more vulnerable than anything else in the market, the two supported versions of Windows included.

Lee: My company makes some software for the care industry, and it’s installed on many companies systems including local authorities. I work in the support dept and we have a few OS’s including XP and Win7. One of the issues I find is the security portals and gateways to log on to a local authority server only work on XP machines. So for us as a department to ditch XP would mean we couldn’t support them.

This is why it’s important to convince users and businesses to move on from Windows XP. Hopefully we can start to weed XP out so your job gets a little easier.

Jay: I think a lot of people don’t realize how much different XP SP3 or even SP2 is versus the original release candidate. The amount of options that grew up on XP are amazing. From USB to integrated WiFi client to Plug and Play that actually works, later versions of XP are far from being as antiquated when compared to the 2001 release. It’s like stating that Mac OS 10.1 is the same as 10.6 because both share the title of OSX.

Great point. This is really a testament to XP’s success. It was a really amazing product and MS did a pretty great job of massaging it along with the changes in tech along the years. You can only patch and update an OS for so long, though!

CarlB: Why pay a mint for Windows of the Month when I don’t need it. Why do so many others use XP? It works fine and does not require a system upgrade to newer and faster hardware.

Many commenters have pointed out there are lots of free options for operating systems, including Ubuntu Linux and Linux Mint. These have better security than Windows XP, loads of free software, and are getting easer to use and better supported by the day. They also run on lots and lots of CHEAP old hardware as well.

TechLogon:Fully patched SP3/IE8 (preferably FF7/Chrome), top security suite, limited user a/c and up to date Flash etc and you will not be wide open to malware.

Yes, it’s true that Flash infects lots of machines. It’s also true that fully patched SP3 XP machines will fare better than SP1 or SP2 machines. However, XP is still the biggest target with the most malware in the wild, and still the most insecure major platform. Patching doesn’t change that, and Microsoft is getting slow to fix major security problems popping up in XP. It’s dangerous to say that ordinary users can get by just being careful. The best practice for users should also involve upgrading to a more modern OS, be it Linux, Mac OS X, or Windows 7. There are so many valid options, it really doesn’t make sense to stick to an OS that old.

Weezyrider: However, I do have some specialty programs that run best on XP, so they are on separate boxes with NO ONLINE ACCESS. With no access, security is not a problem.

Can’t disagree with that. Sandboxing XP programs or running them as virtual machines, or even as machines with no WAN access is a pretty great way to keep them secure.


The conclusion is clear—XP is a relic from a very different world, and is probably the most dangerous way people still use the internet. Use it at your own risk, and say goodbye to it as soon as you possibly can, for your own sake! Readers, join in the conversation by leaving us your comments about your own experiences with XP, and maybe about how you’ve moved on to more modern operating systems, like new the Ubuntu, Mac OS, or Windows 7.

Image Credits: Trash by Bastian, available under Creative Commons. 1940 Ford DeLuxe convertible by Stephen Foskett, available under GNU license. Image of Birthday Cat found on Reddit, used without source, assumed fair use. Trash by Mathieu Thouvenin, available under Creative Commons. All other images assumed fair use.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Stetson-wearing wild man. During the day, he manages IT and product development for screenprinted apparel manufacturing; by night he creates geek art posters, writes JavaScript, and records weekly podcasts about comics.

  • Published 10/24/11
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