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The Information Age By Peter Newell Windows XP -- obsolete or not?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - Updated: 9:25 AM

Microsoft has announced it will no longer support Windows XP after April 8, 2014. Does this mean XP is obsolete?

Good question. I don't have a definitive answer. There are some who say XP is already obsolete. I'm not convinced.

If your computer is connected to the Internet and you rely on it for business tasks, I'd say you should definitely consider upgrading to Windows 7 or 8 soon. Otherwise, I'd take some precautions, and then wait and see. I don't intend to retire my XP machines just yet.

Windows XP is 12 years old. The original version was released worldwide for retail sale Oct. 25, 2001. XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) was released May 6, 2008.

The official end-of-retail-sale date was June 30, 2008, and for PCs with Windows preinstalled it was Oct. 22, 2010. However, even after Microsoft stopped selling XP directly, it was available as a "downgrade" from Vista, so you could have purchased a new computer with some version of Windows XP for a period of about 10 years.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

It does not mean that Window XP will stop working. It means that Microsoft will stop issuing Windows Updates for XP, although it has now said it will continue issuing updates for the malicious software removal tool until April 2015.

The problem is the most important Windows updates are those that patch security flaws that can be exploited by malware writers. After 12 years, you'd think most of the flaws with XP have already been found. The major ones probably have.

However, there is an army of malware writers out there looking for any possible avenue of attack. It is certain they will continue to find vulnerabilities.

By some estimates, about 50 percent of PCs are still running XP. I suspect it may be even higher. XP is known to be less secure than Vista, 7, or 8, because in order to improve security certain major changes were needed that could not simply be implemented with a service pack. This makes XP an attractive target.

As time goes on, the number of known but unpatched Windows XP security flaws will increase, so the possibility of malware infection will rise. However, if you start with a clean system with all updates and service packs installed, have good antivirus protection, and practice safe on line computing, I'd say the chances of your computer being infected will be fairly low for some time.

Another way to protect yourself is to use the latest programs for Internet access. The two most common Internet activities are web browsing and email.

Microsoft long ago stopped producing new versions of Internet Explorer for XP. However, (so far) the latest versions of Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome will work on XP. I advise everyone to stop using Internet Explorer 8 and switch to Firefox or Chrome.

Outlook Express has also been criticized. One problem with it is it uses Internet Explorer code to display formatted email. Switching to the Mozilla Thunderbird email client or possibly to Windows Live mail, or just using a web mail interface, are options.

The jury is still out in my book, but I think you could get at least a couple of more years out of your Windows XP computer. The key is to get it in shipshape order now.

If it is a relatively new computer, or one with good hardware specs, it might be a candidate for upgrading to Windows 7. If not, another possibility is to switch to some version of Linux, which is known to run well on older hardware and to be very secure.

Note: Affordable Technical Solutions' Pete Newell has provided professional computer services for 35 years. He can be reached at (315) 376-8879 or through solutions.prnewell.com.

     

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