If you’re still using Windows XP, I wish you’d stop. Seriously, for your safety and the safety of others, I wish you’d stop. The good news is you have some options, and you’ll probably be happier with one of them.
Still using Windows XP is dangerous
Every month, people discover new bugs in Windows. And every month, Microsoft releases fixes for those bugs–for newer versions of Windows. They stopped releasing those fixes for Windows XP in 2014. Microsoft made an exception in May 2017, releasing a single patch, but that was the exception. It was not, as some said on Twitter, a revival for XP. Microsoft releases the occasional one-off patch but the majority of updates never appear for Windows XP, so it’s still not safe to use. No amount of wishful thinking is bringing Windows XP back.
On some level, I get it. Windows XP worked pretty well, especially compared to older versions of Windows. XP wasn’t cheap and neither was the computer you bought with it, most likely.
There are people who will tell you as long as you have a firewall and antivirus software, you’re safe. They are wrong.
How exploits work
The easiest way to hack into a computer is to use an exploit. I’ll explain as simply as I can how an exploit works.
Think of programs and data. Your web browser is a program. This web page is data. This is theoretical and I would never do this, but bear with me. Imagine if I were to bury some program code in this web page. In theory, I might be able to find a way to find a bug in your web browser to run that code. Usually when that happens, your web browser crashes, runs that code in the process, and you think nothing of it. But now that code is running–and potentially giving someone else access to your computer.
It’s really hard to do this stuff on an up to date computer. Sadly, on a computer that’s running Windows XP and a pile of old software, it’s not especially hard.
I know you’re asking why antivirus doesn’t block that. There are so many different ways to hide code in data that antivirus software isn’t good at finding it. It works sometimes, but not often enough to protect you in this situation.
Your options for migrating off Windows XP
Fortunately, there are affordable ways to migrate away from Windows XP. This year, I’ve bought not one, but two refurbished computers with Windows 10 on them. One is an HP Elitebook 8440P laptop. The other is a Lenovo M58 desktop. I paid around $125 for each of them. The Lenovo came with Windows 10. I upgraded the HP to Windows 10. And both of them are faster than anything that came with Windows XP. At this point, they’re probably more reliable too.
Another option is to get a Google Chromebook. If the main thing you use a computer for is to go to web sites like Facebook and check your e-mail with Gmail, Live.com, or Yahoo mail, you can probably get by with a cheap and cheerful Chromebook. The nice thing about Chromebooks is they store so little data on them, they aren’t even worth hacking into. So no one bothers. It’s pretty easy to find new Chromebooks for $150-$200. You can find a used Chromebook on Ebay for under $100. Just make sure it comes with the charger and the battery works. Sometimes you can find one for under $50 with a broken mouse pad. As long as the rest of it works, you can just plug a mouse into it and use it anyway.
If you’re still using Windows XP, either of these options are much safer than sticking with Windows XP. They are also likely to be more reliable, as they run on newer hardware than whatever you’re using to run XP. Computer hardware gets less reliable with age, particularly hard drives. Something a little bit newer, running a newer operating system will give you an overall better experience.
What about software that only runs on Windows XP?
If you have software that won’t run on newer versions of Windows, you can continue to run it. Just don’t use the same computer to go onto the Internet and read e-mail. Move the data you need to that computer, do what you need to do, and if you need to send the data to someone, use a new computer to do it. It’s a little inconvenient but it keeps you and your data safe. The only way still using Windows XP is safe is if you keep the systems in isolation.