After more than 12 years in service, Microsoft has finally ended support for Windows XP.
This doesn’t mean that computers running the operating system will stop booting, but they will become drastically more susceptible to hackers as the company’s stops issuing security updates and providing technical support.
For big institutions with a lot of computers running XP the inertia has proved too much, and many - including the UK government - have caved, paying millions to Microsoft to negotiate custom support deals.
Estimates vary but it’s thought that as many as a third of the world’s computers are still running the operating system and Microsoft themselves have said that infections for XP will rise 66 per cent after 8 April. The question is, if you’re still running Windows XP - what do you do now?
In the long term you only have two new options: buy a new computer or upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. We’ll deal with those options in a second, but if you’re not ready to make a quick switch over then there’s a couple of things you should do if you’ll still be on XP over the next couple of months.
Firstly, make sure the software you have is as up to date as possible. That means grabbing any security fixes you may have missed from Microsoft’s website and making sure you’ve got some (non-Microsoft) anti-virus software installed.
You should also switch from Internet Explorer to a different browser such as Firefox or Chrome. Google will be supporting their browser on XP computers until April 2015 while Mozilla haven’t announced an end date to support for Firefox. Of course, if you want to keep really safe then you’d be best advised just to stay off the web altogether, though for many users this won’t even be an option.
Another option is to switch from using an administrator account to a limited account for tasks like checking your email (where you might accidently download that pesky malware). This means that if a hacker does start riding along on your computer at least they won’t have administrator-level access.
However, we have to stress that even these steps are just temporary measures and aren’t enough to protect you in the following months. One way or the other you need to upgrade.
Whether you’re buying a new computer (a separate decisions altogether –do you stick with a desktop or switch to something more portable?) or simply upgrading your current operating system you’ll have to choose between Windows 7 and Windows 8.
30 years in the making: Windows through the ages
30 years in the making: Windows through the ages
1/9 Windows 1.0, 1985
Announced in 1983 and shipped two years later, Windows 1.0 was Microsoft's first move away from the command-line input system of MS-DOS. Drop-down menus, scroll bars, icons and dialog boxes are ll introduced and users can multi-task in different...windows.
2/9 Windows 3.0, 1990
With its successor, Windows 3.1 (released in 1992), Windows 3 sold 10 million copies. 16 colour graphics were introduced for the first time, as were games including Solitaire, Hearts and Minesweeper. A sample advert: “Now you can use the incredible power of Windows 3.0 to goof off.”
3/9 Windows 95, 1995
Windows 95 sold a record-setting 7 million copies in its first five weeks. It introduced users to the Start button (adverts used the Rolling Stones hit 'Start Me Up') and, more importantly, the internet, with built-in internet support and dial-up networking.
4/9 Windows 98, 1998
The first version of Windows designed specifically for consumers, released at at time when computers were becoming more common at home and at work. DVDs and USBs were supported for the first time .
5/9 Windows ME, 2000
Windows ME (or Millenium Edition) introduced a number of notable features, including many aimed at multimedia (such as as Windows Movie Maker). However, it was an incredibly unreliable system and was widely panned after its release.
6/9 Windows XP, 2001
Windows XP triumphed where ME had stalled. It was fast, easy to use and most importantly it was stable. 400 million versions were installed in the first five years, and despite Microsoft's attempts to move forwards, for many people XP is still the most-important OS, used on around 30 per cent of machines worldwide.
7/9 Windows Vista, 2006
Vista was most likely a victim of XP's sucess. Users had got so used to the smooth-running of the previous OS that the 2006 update became a magnet for citicism, especially from IT specialists who deemed it 'bloated' and 'virus-prone'. How easy was it to poke fun at Vista? Well, Apple introduced the 'I'm a Mac' campaign in response.
8/9 Windows 7, 2009
Microsoft learned from their mistakes, and Windows 7 was put through its pace by 8 million beta testers before general release. The result? An operating system hailed as "what Vista should have done in the first place". However, while Windows 7 was a success, Microsoft was beginning the feel the pressure from Macs and mobile devices.
9/9 Windows 8, 2012
Their response? Windows 8: A total re-imagining of the OS that was suited towards touch-screen devices and especially Microsoft's own Surface tablet-laptop hybrids. It was a bold move and users were not happy: subsequent updates restored the option for the traditional desktop-style layout, but it's still not certain whether Windows 8 is a success or a failure.
Windows 7 will be most familiar to Windows XP users, offering with a similar looking desktop and start menu layout while Windows 8 is a little more adventurous. Although it was originally designed with touchscreen systems in mind it does include a desktop mode – and Microsoft have recently suggested that the start menu will be making a comeback in future updates.
Whichever upgrade you go for you’ll need to check your computer meets the minimum system requirements for either system. For either Windows 7 or 8 you’ll need at least a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of hard disk space (see here for full requirements Windows 7 and Windows 8).
However, the requirements listed above are extremely generous and to run an operating system that doesn’t collapse every 30 minutes you’ll want at least 4GB of RAM, a 2GHZ processor and 500GB of storage. Buying a computer or laptop with these specs shouldn’t set you back more than £300.
If you’re still planning on upgrading then Microsoft offers some great guides on their own website, meaning that you can download your new operating system and transfer all your old files without ever leaving your computer. Click here for Windows 7 and here for Windows 8.
If you’re not sure about which you’d prefer then we recommend that you go into a store to have a play around with both. Windows 7 is certainly the more intuitive to use after Windows XP, but it’s worth remembering the obvious: this too is an ‘old’ operating system. Microsoft will be adding more updates to 8 over time while Windows 7 will be the first to get the chop - just like XP.
Update: As many of our readers have pointed out there are, of course, other options out there apart from Windows, including switching to Apple or trying out one of the great array of Linux distros. If you're interested in these then we suggest checking out this guide to the open-source world.