The one-year countdown to the end of support for Windows XP began ticking down yesterday. If you're still using the ancient, legacy version of Windows, it's time to consider your next move.
To be clear, your PC will not burst into flames next year--at least, if it does, it won't have anything to do with the expiration of Windows XP support. When XP support ends, Microsoft will no longer invest any resources to maintain or update it. Windows XP will still continue to work just as well as it has for the past decade.
In that case, why should you be concerned? Two words: Patch Tuesday.
When support for Windows XP ends, Microsoft will cease developing security patches for the venerable OS. As old and great as the OS is, new vulnerabilities impact Windows XP on a regular basis--including many critical flaws that could allow an attacker to take over or cripple a PC running it.
Every day that passes once Windows XP support expires means new vulnerabilities that your PC will be exposed to, with no patches to save the day.
Jump in, the water is great!
Sure, Windows Vista had some issues, and nobody can blame you for sitting that one out. In fact, many might even praise you for having the wisdom to hang on to Windows XP. Kudos!
Windows 7, however, is another story. Windows 7 is to Windows Vista as Windows XP is to Windows Me. It is a very capable operating system, with a variety of features that can help you work more efficiently, and it's inherently more secure than XP.
The jury is still out on Windows 8, the new kid on the block, and a dramatic overhaul of the Windows OS. The Modern (previously known as Metro) interface is designed with touch in mind, which can mean a steep learning curve. However, Windows 8 also has a desktop mode for legacy software that looks and acts almost exactly like Windows 7 (once you restore the Start menu).
Finally, there's the upcoming Windows "Blue," which will apparently surface as Windows 8.1. Leaked code indicates that Windows 8.1 will contain a number of important updates to enhance and improve the Windows 8 experience.
Who says you have to keep using Windows?
If you're still running a 12-year-old operating system, it's reasonable to assume that you're not using cutting-edge hardware. In making a switch from Windows XP to a newer OS, you might face the issue of whether your hardware can keep up.
Of course, you don't have to use Microsoft Windows at all.
On the one hand, if your budget won't allow you to invest in new hardware right now, you could switch to Linux. Linux generally runs smoothly on older, less powerful PCs, and you can make it look and feel a lot like Windows to diminish the learning curve. There are a variety of flavors to choose from, but Ubuntu is one of the more popular.
On the other hand, if you're going to purchase new hardware anyway, maybe it's time to consider a switch to Mac OS X. Apple's OS has been gaining market share, and it has a reputation for being simple and more intuitive than Windows.
A year can seem like an eternity. When the time comes, a small business or individual can just upgrade or switch the OS, or buy a new PC. When you're only dealing with one or several PCs, it's not a big deal.
For larger companies, though, things move at glacial speed. Consider that many companies haven't done an OS or hardware refresh in the past five or six years. If they haven't begun selecting a new OS and developing a plan to roll it out, it may be too late to beat the Windows XP deadline.
The bottom line is, the deadline is looming, so get your own post-XP plan in order.
This story, "Prepare now to survive the end of Windows XP" was originally published by PCWorld.