What does the End of Support for Windows XP Really Mean?

Today, April 8, 2014 marks the end of life for a piece of software that many of us should be familiar with, Windows XP. Windows XP, for it’s time, was a revolutionary operating system both in terms of how it looked and also how it worked; but while it was great in it’s day, it has long since passed it’s prime and it’s now time to move on.

Wait, what’s happening?

Until this date, Microsoft has been keeping on top of any security vulnerabilities that showed up in Windows XP, after April 8th, they will no longer be releasing any more patches (which came in the form of “Windows updates”) for the operating system. Nothing will explode immediately, your Windows XP computer is safe for now, but not much longer.

Why should I upgrade?

If you’re running Windows XP on a computer that connects to the internet, any new exploits that come out, as well as many of the old ones that have already been out for some time, will never be patched. This leaves you progressively more and more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

What can I do?

In a perfect world, people would just buy new hardware that would let them buy the latest and greatest OS. However this isn’t a perfect world, and that’s not always an option. Some people can’t afford to buy new hardware, and even if they can sometimes you just don’t want to upgrade to the newer versions of windows. Here are a few different options you have available, and why you might use them:

Use a different OS

Windows 7 and 8 often just plain won’t run on the older hardware which you may have had Windows XP running on. this means upgrading to the latest and greatest version of Windows just isn’t possible. But do not despair, hope is not lost. There are many versions of linux available, including the popular Ubuntu linux, and these are not only free, but also run in a smaller system footprint than Windows.

  Windows XP Windows 7 Ubuntu Linux
Minimum RAM 256 MB (64 is the minimum but this doesn’t account for any running applications) 1 GB (32 bit)/ 2 GB (64 bit) 512 MB RAM
Processor Speed 300 MHz 1 GHz 700 MHz
Minimum Disk Space 1.5 GB 16 GB 5 GB

You also may be able to run a newer OS after a small hardware upgrade that can probably be done for a small fraction of the price of a whole new computer. For example, 4GB RAM upgrade kits are available for under $20 on sites like ebay, which is perfectly adequate for Windows 7. You will have to be somewhat tech savvy to make sure you get the right parts though.

Upgrade to a new computer, and Virtualize

As a web developer, I find myself testing in XP all the time to insure compatibility with old browsers. Other users may have old software that hasn’t been updated to be compatible with newer versions of windows. In these cases even if you do upgrade your computer, you may find you still need to run windows XP.

One solution is to run windows XP as a virtual machine. You can use the freely available Virtual Box software available at virtualbox.org this software allows you to run a virtual computer inside your existing operating system making it possible to run a copy of Windows XP in a sandbox inside a newer computer where it won’t jepordise your network or information.

Take your XP Machine off the internet

If upgrading your computer isn’t an option, or migrating all your data to a virtual machine isn’t possible, then it may be easier to “Air Gap” your Windows XP computer. Air Gapping is the idea of cutting your machine off from any network access. This measure prevents everyone except those who have physical access to your machine from exploiting it, and allow you to run your applications until you can upgrade. An air gapped machine is safe unless you have an evil hacker family member or roommate, or if malicious software gets in to it via a USB drive.

A Bandage Solution

Although the solutions above are effective for a period of time, they are in no way permanent and are intended only as interim solutions while you make a more permanent switch to more secure software.

What can happen if I continue to run Windows XP?

The biggest risk is that any personal information that may be on your computer (i.e. credit card info, if you ever use it to shop online) will now become easy for a hacker to access. You can then fall victim to credit card fraud or identity theft, which is not fun.

Your machine can also become one of the many computers that (unbeknownst to you) join a malicious botnet which will leave you susceptible to being spied on or sending spam to millions of victims worldwide, as well as compromising performance.

Windows XP was a great operating system for it’s time, but as with any piece of software that time has come and gone and it’s time to move on to the latest and greatest.

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