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Windows XP

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Upgrade Options | Continuing with XP? | About XP | Unsafe to Use

Windows XP -- the last self-contained Windows version

Microsoft's XP Support Ended

Microsoft's support for XP ended April 8, 2014. XP is unsafe to use and will become increasingly so.

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.

You Need to Find an Alternative NOW

You can't continue to run Windows XP with it connected to the Internet. You need to:

Given the age of Windows XP the only realistic option for continuing with the same hardware is to install Linux. A better option is to purchase a new computer with a currently-supported operating system.

The various options are discussed in Replacing Windows: Upgrading when support ends.

Going Permanently Offline

If you continue to use XP, you'll need to take it permanently offline. 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. Be sure to unplug network cables and disable wireless connectivity.

However, being offline has some disadvantages.

  • You may be unable to install devices because you're not connected. Drivers for current hardware seldom comes on CDs or DVDs and XP drivers of any type are quickly vanishing.
  • You can't access news, email, Netflix, YouTube or other online content.
  • Entertainment and video selection is restricted to CDs, DVDs and previously-stored content.

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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.

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).

Take care when working with the Registry.


XP is Unsafe to Use

XP still had 26.29% of the desktop operating system share at the end of April 2014, decreasing to about 5.23% by August 2018. Source.

How does that compare? When XP support ended 49.27% ran Windows 7, 6.36% ran Windows 8, 5.88% ran Windows 8.1 and 4.07% ran Mac OS X 10.9.

Windows XP systems will not be banished from the global village because they're out of date. For now, that's not a problem, but soon the Internet will feel like a crowded theater where one third of the patrons are carrying a highly infectious disease.

XP More Vulnerable

Windows XP was already more vulnerable than newer Windows versions before support ended. Those still using XP need to immediately upgrade or move offline.

Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) is more than twice as vulnerable to infections as the 32-bit version of Windows 7 SP1 and almost three times as vulnerable as the 64-bit version. Couple this with the absence of Windows XP security updates and you've got a recipe for disaster.
HP Technology at Work

Current versions of Internet Explorer were denied to XP by Microsoft adding to the vulnerability.

XP 52% of Those Compromised

In an October 2014 report, ComputerWorldUK noted:

Fifty-two percent of the [half-million] compromised computers were running Windows XP, a figure that is at once unsurprising — considering that support for Windows XP, including patches, ended in April 2014, according to the report.

Most of those computers were running Internet Explorer, which is to be expected given both the size of the Internet Explorer install base and the number and variety of exploits available for this browser, the report said.

The Hard Facts

  • XP is more vulnerable than any newer version of Windows.
  • New patches released for Windows 7, 8 and 10 will potentially reveal unpatched components in XP.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials support for XP ceased on July 14, 2015. Third-party security software support for XP is tenuous.
  • Governments were reportedly paying $300 per computer per year to receive critical updates until April 2017 as they prepare to move away from XP.

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

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Updated: March 16, 2021