Seriously, it’s time to let XP go


Microsoft's ending XP support means you should give up the ghost. (Simon Dawson/ Bloomberg News)

It can be hard to let things go. In the computer world, Windows XP has been a stalwart companion for many of us -- so much so that after over a decade after its launch, it's estimated to still run 29 percent of the world's computers. That means nearly one-third of  folks are happily ticking along using an operating system that came out before we even knew what an iPhone was.

All that ends on April 8.

Well, kind of. Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP next month, meaning that while your XP-having computers won't completely shut down, they will only get buggier if you dig in your heels and refuse to change operating systems. Things will get even worse when Microsoft stops support for XP's anti-malware products in July 2015, at which point your computer will be an even richer target for attacks.

Upgrading can be a scary, and sometimes, at least on the surface, an unnecessary process. That may seem even more true as  Microsoft and Apple have sped up the rate at which they release major updates to their operating systems.

Part of Microsoft's problem in getting users off of XP is that its had a series of missteps between when it started working to phase out the old system and now.

Windows Vista stopped a lot of people from updating their systems until Windows 7 came along in 2009. Windows 7 now has a 47 percent share of all desktops.

Windows 8 has seen a very slow adoption as well, because of Microsoft's hybrid approach to design, making the system partially optimized for touchscreens and tablets, while keeping some desktop navigation features. The result is a slightly schizophrenic operating system that's turned many users off, and that negative reaction has kept many from making that upgrade decision. Even with tweaks to Windows 8.1 to make it feel more like a traditional desktop, the changes are major enough to keep plenty of people wary of switching over.

But this isn't just about companies trying to wring more money out of you to capitalize on your fear of missing out. People may think that all they lack by ignoring new systems are new programs, features and layouts. (In the case of Windows 8, not having its new, tiled, layout may actually seem like a feature to you.) And that's all true -- as time ticks on, you won't be able to use new applications, and your computer will get less useful over time.

But the truth is that updating your operating system is critical to the health and safety of your computer.  If there are big security flaws found in Windows, it's pretty much assured that XP users won't ever see official fixes for them.  You're on your own.

That seems to be the case for the small percentage of Apple users running its Snow Leopard operating system (Mac OS X 10.6), a four-and-a-half year old system.  According to Net Market Share, only 1.4 percent of all desktop users rely on Apple's old operating system -- a far smaller share of the overall pie than for XP, but that still includes approximately 23 percent of Mac users.

Apple declined to comment on whether or not it has officially stopped support for the system, but that system hasn't seen an update since last September. And it is, arguably, easier for Mac users to make the upgrade decision, since Apple has made its OS upgrade free for Snow Leopard, as well as its successors, Lion and Mountain Lion.

To its credit, Microsoft has been more forthcoming, likely because of the large amount of users still on Windows XP, and has even deigned to extend that anti-malware support well into next year. That buys you plenty of time to decide what your next step should be: an upgrade to Windows 7, Windows 8, a switch to Mac, a chance to try out Linux, etc. It also gives you time to save up for a new machine, in case you’re machine isn't compatible with Windows 7.

Just don't wait too long. It's time to let XP go.

 

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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