Microsoft's XP Support Has Ended
On April 8, 2014 XP support ended. XP is unsafe to use and will become increasingly so (see sidebar).
I strongly recommend that you discontinue running Windows XP.
What Does Unsupported Mean?
Using older and unsupported software is risky.
An unsupported version of Windows will no longer receive software updates from Windows Update. These include security updates that can help protect your PC from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software, which can steal your personal information.Windows Update also installs the latest software updates to improve the reliability of Windows—new drivers for your hardware and more. —Microsoft — What does “end of support” mean?
You Need to Find an Alternative NOW
You can't continue to run Windows XP with it connected to the Internet. You need to:
- buy a new computer; or
- install a currently-supported alternative operating system; or
- take your computer offline forever.
Connecting an XP computer to your network can allow ransomware and other vulnerabilities to infect your entire network. You're left with the choice of sending hundreds of dollars to a criminal organization or saying goodbye to your photos, documents, tax records and more if you don't have recent backups of these files.
A New Computer
A new computer is probably your best option given the age of XP hardware. This avoids issues with aging hardware and allows you to prepare for a longer lifespan for your replacement computer.
Windows 10 is pretty much your only Windows alternative in a NEW computer but second-hand Windows 7 and 8 computers are available.
Apple Mac computers have become much more popular in recent years and integration with the iPhone and iPad is excellent.
You might find this a reasonable upgrade path, particularly if you're having to replace aging hardware and software. There are some considerations.
- The cost is significantly higher than for a typical Windows computer. The higher cost also brings better hardware and because Apple controls the hardware you get a consistently-great experience.
- If you have commitments to expensive Windows software like Adobe Photoshop, you'll need to replace them with the Mac versions.
- There will be a learning curve. Switch to Mac: How to find your favorite Windows features in OS X.
Advanced users can use Boot Camp to dual boot to Windows or another operating system. However, XP will be no safer on Mac hardware so you'll need to spring for a newer version of Windows.
Alternative Operating Systems
Depending upon the upgradability of your computer hardware and your changing needs you should carefully assess the practicality of upgrading your XP computer to an alternative operating system.
The first question you'll want to ask is the viability of upgrading your current hardware.
- Your aging XP hardware is significantly more likely to fail. Hard drive failure could lead to the loss of data.
- Newer computers have much faster processors and more RAM and are still relatively inexpensive.
- You'll need to purchase a Windows license to upgrade XP, whereas a new computer will come with one.
- Windows 10's valid only for the supported lifetime of the device which is undefined by Microsoft. XP's hardware is older and was never included in the free upgrade to Windows 10.
- Microsoft is determined to end the use of Windows 7 and 8, forcing people into Windows 10. Windows 7 installations run into snags with Windows Update requiring research into workarounds.
Linux offers a decent upgrade path for those with older hardware and minimal needs.
- It runs well on your existing hardware and its free!
- Thunderbird, Firefox, LibreOffice and many programs are either preinstalled or available.
- Support for printers and other external hardware has greatly improved.
- Support for some Windows programs using WINE has improved.
- You can boot to a LiveDVD version of Linux (running in RAM) to see how it performs on your hardware and to see how it works for you.
Check the Linux forums to see if your hardware is supported or to find solutions to issues you run into.
The iPad or Android-based tablets can provide an excellent alternative for users that have light requirements (email, Facebook, Web surfing, very light documents). Many folks already have one of these devices, making the move relatively inexpensive.
- Be sure that you're able to do everything with your tablet before abandoning your PC files forever. A backup of those files is recommended just in case.
- Be aware that keyboard- and mouse-intensive tasks (spreadsheets, long documents, etc.) are not as easily performed on a tablet.
- To print documents you'll need to invest in a suitable wireless printer if you don't already have one.
See iPad or Laptop. Which is right for you? in Macworld.
Continuing with XP?
If you continue to use XP (not recommended) you need to change the way you use your computer.
Go Permanently Offline
The recommended option is to take your XP computer permanently offline (unplug it from the Internet).
Significant security weaknesses make connecting XP to the Internet dangerous since XP was already far more vulnerable than newer versions of Windows.
You can continue to use XP for word processing, home theatre, music, etc. as long as you're depending upon CDs and DVDs or existing stored content.
I'd recommend some of the recommended changes for those continuing to use XP online.
However, being offline has some disadvantages.
- You may be unable to install devices because you're not connected. Drivers seldom come on CDs or DVDs any longer and XP drivers of any type are gone or quickly vanishing.
- You can't access news, email, Netflix, YouTube and other online content.
- Entertainment and video selection is restricted to CDs, DVDs and previously-stored content.
Other Hardware Issues
Hardware changes over time and this will affect your ability to continue to run new hardware (video cards, scanners, printers, etc.) and software.
Manufacturer support for Windows XP is minimal at best and you may find it harder to find replacement hardware or to get support for newer devices. Manufacturer sites no longer list XP drivers for newer hardware and many have even removed older drivers.
- Few manufacturers see any advantage in spending money developing new drivers for obsolete computers.
- Newer software is not designed to run on older machines, particularly high-end games.
If you opt to stay online while using XP, there are some modifications that you need to make so that your computer is safer:
- Uninstall Java, Flash and Adobe Reader.
- Replace Internet Explorer.
- Replace Outlook Express (or any obsolete email program). See exporting from Outlook Express.
- Replace or disable vulnerable software such as Windows Messenger Service and unsupported versions of Microsoft Office.
- Uninstall unnecessary software.
- Disable or remove vulnerable services
- Use a limited account.
- Buy a full security suit.
Ensure that XP Service Pack 3 and all recommended updates are installed. Many security programs will not run otherwise.
Uninstall Java, Flash and Adobe Reader
Anyone running Windows XP should remember to constantly update installed utility software such as Java or Flash. What's more, XP PCs should not be used to constantly surf the Web or serve as an e-mail platform. Most of the malware finds its way into a Windows system via these pathways. — AV-TEST
Java, Flash and Adobe Reader have become the main vulnerabilities on computers. Not are they commonly installed (making them attractive targets) but they has significant vulnerabilities from legacy components.
- Java isn't needed for most folks so you generally don't need to replace it. Some components of LibreOffice and OpenOffice require Java, but most users can do without it.
- Flash has been replaced with Silverlight and HTML5 on sites like YouTube and Netflix. Flash-based sites are disappearing.
- You should replace Adobe Reader with a safer alternative. I recommend Nitro Reader.
Replace Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer 8 was the last version that will run on Windows XP SP3. This was a marketing decision, not a technical one.
Use safer browser. I recommend Mozilla Firefox to help protect your privacy.
Be sure to add extensions to protect you while online:
- Ghostery stops beacons, ads, analytics services, page widgets and other third-party page elements from secretly tracking your every move. FAQ.
- NoScript allows active content to run only from sites you trust, and protects you against XSS and Clickjacking attacks.
- Use LastPass for superior FREE password protection. LastPass Premium gives you more for an annual fee.
Replace Vulnerable Software
Replace unsupported or vulnerable software with replacements.
Replace Adobe Reader with Nitro Reader.
Replace outdated/unsupported versions of Microsoft Office with LibreOffice. It will run fine without Java as long as you don't need the extended functionality (in which case you NEED to update to a newer operating system).
Uninstall Unnecessary Software
Every piece of software on your computer is a potential target for an infection.
Go to Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel and be sure to remove any software that you no longer use, especially older or deprecated software and “extras” like:
- Outlook Express (or any unsupported, obsolete email program);
- toolbars and search enhancement tools;
- updating utilities from your computer manufacturer (they no longer support XP); and
- any gaming site software.
Exporting From Outlook Express
Outlook Express (OE) is an obsolete email program that was installed by default with Windows XP yet is dangerous to use since it was based upon the outdated Internet Explorer 6.
You'll want to move to a modern email program that provides the security and usability you need but you'll still want access to your archived mail and contact information in the new program.
Exporting Mail and Address Book
Outlook Express has a proprietary binary format that makes it difficult to extract email addresses either for archival purposes or to move your mail to a new program.
Here are a number of suggestions that can help you with this process.
- How to export email messages from Outlook Express into Outlook.
- Issues moving Internet Mail and Addresses to Outlook (64 bit).
- Postbox 5 has an Import/Export extension. Not supported in Postbox 6 and your mileage may vary.
- You can use a utility like DBXtract 4.5 to extract the messages from Outlook Express's dbx mailbox files so you can migrate to a supported email program.
- See also Third-Party Import/Export Programs for alternatives.
While not expressly devoted to exporting mail and settings from Outlook Express, Inside Outlook Express might provide helpful hints if something goes wrong.
You can Google software you're unfamiliar with to learn if it is safe to remove.
Find a new email program or deal with email on another device. Thunderbird is recommended for older XP systems.
Disable or Remove Vulnerable Services
If you continue to run XP, you should ensure that the most vulnerable services are disabled or uninstalled.
- Home users with Windows XP do not normally need Windows Messenger Service. This is not MSN Messenger and will not affect the operation of any other messaging service. Gibson Research Corporation offers tools to disable Windows Messenger Service.
- Be aware that MSN Messenger runs with Windows. Even if you don't think you're running it, verify that no other users on your computer (i.e. your children) are using it.
- Uninstall Outlook Express. This program is obsolete and vulnerable. Alternatives…
- You'll want to check for and stop other unnecessary services. CCleaner can easily allow you to control what is being started up with Windows and other services (click on Tools and select Startup).
To uninstall Outlook Express, Windows Messenger and other services:
- Click Start then Settings then Control Panel.
- Click on Add/Remove Programs.
- Click on Add/Remove Windows Components in the column on the left.
- Uncheck the components you want to remove (Outlook Express, Windows Messenger, etc.).
- Click “Next” to remove the selected components.
Use a Limited Account
Establish and use a Limited account by default, returning to the Administrator account (what you've probably been running all along) only when you need to do administrative work on your computer.
- Go to the Control Panel then User Accounts and create a Limited account.
- While you're there, ensure that your old account (the Administrator account) has a secure password. Don't share it with anyone else.
- The Limited account won't allow malicious software to install or alter your computer.
- You need to be careful in what tasks you perform while in the Administrator account.
Buy a Full Security Suit
Purchase a decent security suite to protect your computer. I strongly recommend ZoneAlarm Extreme.
- Ensure that you update the antivirus and antimalware signatures at least daily (once a week if you're not using the computer).
- When support for XP is terminated you should seek an effective alternative. You may be forced to pay for signature updates on an older version.
- If you're unable to run any security software, you have no choice but to take your computer offline.
Security vendors will try their best to protect XP computers, but there are definite limitations, especially in free software. Remember, XP is far more vulnerable “out of the box” than more recent (and supported versions of Windows).
About Windows XP
Windows XP was very successful — and for good reason. It proved very reliable and had resolved many of the problems that people experienced with earlier versions of Windows. It came in two editions, the primary differences being negligible for most users.
Released December 31, 2001, XP enjoyed a longer period of support from Microsoft (12 years) than any previous Windows consumer version (see Windows Life-cycle). This is likely a combination of the poor perceived value in upgrading to Windows Vista and the widespread adoption of the Home edition by business.
Although Windows XP sales terminated on June 30, 2008 computers preinstalled with XP were available until October 22, 2010 (when Vista was released).
Vista Home Basic was a sell-out to hardware vendors with computers designed for XP but lacking the capacity to run Vista (Microsoft was determined to kill XP off). If your computer came with Vista Home Basic, you'll have to look at alternatives to Windows for satisfaction. Linux is recommended although current versions can run slowly on Home Basic hardware.
This experience left a bad taste in many people's mouths.
Windows XP Editions
Microsoft's Windows XP came initially only in the first two editions:
- Home Edition (aimed at home users)
- Professional Edition (aimed at corporate and business users)
but others were added later:
- Media Center Edition
- Tablet PC Edition
- Professional x64 Edition
Previously, there had always been separate Windows operating systems for business and home users instead of variations of the same operating system. This confusion (and the relatively few differences with the more-expensive Pro Edition) created the widespread use of the Home Edition that likely contributed to the longer-than-usual support period for XP.
Special POS XP Still Supported
Many retail stores continue to use XP for their POS systems (virtual cash registers) and there is other customized corporate software that won't run on newer versions of Windows.
A special version of XP was released for POS systems in 2009 that will continue to be supported by Microsoft for several more years. Computers running this version don't experience all the vulnerabilities that a standard computer would in everyday use. Therefore security requirements are less vigorous.
Legacy hardware and software is the main reason some companies and governments are paying Microsoft for critical security updates following the end of support — to give them time to develop alternatives.
Many Reasons for Corporate Delays
Corporations don't move quickly to adopt new operating systems for a number of reasons:
- Moving to a new operating system is expensive and it requires time to upgrade equipment then train employees to use it.
- The last major change was from Windows NT to XP. Budgets are tight and many have proprietary software that won't run on anything but Windows XP.
- Most corporate IT departments won't move to a new operating system for at least 18 months after it is released. We just reached that mark for Windows 8 when XP expired, but then Windows 8.1 was released and that affected decisions and created the potential of forcing companies to support two operating systems instead of one.
- Microsoft had hoped that businesses would switch to Windows 8 but many have waited and now most making a change are moving to Windows 7 unless they have a reason to move to mobile devices.
Small Business Delays
Some small businesses or medical practices also have highly specialized software that is available to them, but has been priced so that the business considers it a poor investment. Rather than letting the business purchase the software outright, there is a fixed perpetual per-month fee per computer.
While the developer may have waited a long time for new purchases, there is little incentive to make improvements to a product if businesses are already paying a fixed monthly fee.
Installing Windows XP
XP Support & Documentation Mostly Gone
Microsoft's documentation on Windows XP is mostly gone and many of the support pages on the Web are no longer maintained.
- Windows for Business end of support options from Microsoft recommends upgrading to Windows 10.
Recovering Windows XP may provide some help for installing or reinstalling Windows XP.
Tweaking & Customizing Windows XP
The quickest way to speed up Windows is to add more RAM and to control the number of unnecessary functions starting with Windows, particularly those showing in the taskbar to the right near the clock.
Stop Unnecessary Startups
Almost every program now is configured to start with Windows but this can be altered in the options for each program or you can use utilities like CCleaner to manage the startup programs list. Click on Tools and select Startup.
Be Sure Enough RAM is Installed
Windows XP with Service Pack 3 requires at least 2 GB of RAM to run efficiently with today's programs.
Most Windows XP installations are 32-bit versions, and unless you are one of the few running the 64-bit edition, you will not be able to effectively install more than 3.5 GB of RAM (Windows XP will only “see” maximum of 3.5 GB if 4 GB is installed).
For an explanation of the difference between 32- and 64-bit hardware, please see 32- or 64-bit? on the Windows Resources page.
Tweaking Windows XP
Tweaking involves changing the way Windows does certain tasks, such as not placing the "shortcut to" in the name of new shortcuts (you can tell a shortcut by the little arrow placed on the icon — although you can remove that as well, if you like).
- SpeedGuide's Windows XP Tweaks.
- Windows 2000/XP Registry Tweaks.
- Host Resolution Priority Tweak helps your web pages load faster without degrading your downloads.
Take care when working with the Registry.