Facing the Windows XP apocalypse? Here are some options

windows xp

Are you ready for the "XP Apocalypse" on April 8? That's when Microsoft Corp. plans to stop issuing security updates for the aging, but still-popular XP version of its flagship Windows operating system, which by some estimates is still running on nearly one in three personal computers in homes and offices around the world, along with some bank ATMs and other commercial systems.

Security experts say those machines will become significantly more vulnerable to viruses, spyware and other malicious hacks once Microsoft withdraws its support. No one's predicting a Mayan-style cataclysm, but if you're still using XP, here are some things to consider.

Microsoft started selling XP back in 2001 - long before the much-maligned Vista and two subsequent versions known as Windows 7 and Windows 8. The company says it's already overextended the natural life cycle of XP, while newer versions of Windows offer better security and performance, especially when it comes to newer Web services and touch-enabled programs.

Even so, many consumers, businesses and government agencies have seen no reason to replace XP on their desktop and laptop computers, according to research firm NetMarketShare, which says XP powers nearly 30 percent of all personal computers worldwide. Others estimate 200 million or more XP users.

"XP is a solid operating system. People are used to it. They've got other software that's compatible with it. And all their stuff is on it," said Kevin McGuire, who owns the Bay Area Computerman repair shop in San Jose, Calif. "I still have computers running XP in my shop."

While McGuire is skeptical of the more dire warnings about XP, other experts say there's reason to be concerned. Several makers of antivirus programs and other security software say their products will continue to work with XP, but they may not provide full protection.

Security programs can detect and neutralize malware, but they don't repair vulnerabilities in the underlying operating system, said Gerry Egan, senior director of product management at Symantec, which "strongly recommends" that XP users upgrade to a newer operating system.

Like most software companies, Microsoft issues regular or "patches" for Windows, which it distributes through free downloads as new vulnerabilities are found. It plans to stop doing this for XP, while continuing to release updates for newer Windows versions.

That in itself could create a road map for hackers to attack XP, said Egan, because some vulnerabilities may affect more than one version of Windows. When Microsoft issues a patch for a later version, he predicted, hackers will check to see if they can exploit the same, unpatched weakness in XP.

Computers running XP "will be an easy target for hackers" and could even be taken over by bots, or automated programs that disguise their malicious nature to infect other PCs running newer operating systems, Ondrej Vlcek, chief operations officer at antivirus maker Avast, said in a recent blog post.

With the April 8 deadline looming, XP users have some options. One is to finally get a new version of Windows.

Microsoft, of course, hopes people will buy the latest version, although Windows 8 has a drastically revamped interface that longtime XP users may find confusing. It also requires more memory and processing power than some older computers can provide.

Windows 7 is a closer cousin to XP, but it was first sold in 2009 and is getting hard to find. Amazon, for example, only sells Windows 7 in a kit that must be installed on a new hard drive or one that's been wiped completely clean - a tricky process beyond many consumers' expertise.

More user-friendly installation kits may be available if you look. Stan Reynolds at On Balance, a Walnut Creek, Calif., repair shop, said he can provide and install Windows 7 on an older PC, although it will cost several hundred dollars.

Given the cost and trouble of installing a new system, some XP users may opt to just buy a new PC, with modern hardware and software already on board. While many retailers promote the latest models running Windows 8, some stores still have machines with Windows 7. There are also desktops and laptops with rival operating systems from Apple and Google - or, for less money, a tablet or e-reader might suffice.

But for those who really want to keep using XP, experts offer this advice:

First, be sure to use an updated anti-malware program; some experts recommend using two, since one may find things the other misses. Microsoft Security Essentials is a free anti-malware program that you can download now; you won't be able to download the XP version after April 8, although Microsoft says it will distribute updates for an unspecified time.

Second, switch to Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox for Web browsing. Both will continue to work with XP and have the latest browser security features. The two most recent versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer won't work with XP, while older versions of Explorer don't work as well with newer websites.

Finally, stick to trusted websites and avoid using an XP computer for online banking, shopping or anything involving sensitive information. Better still, disconnect from the Internet and just use the computer for word processing, spreadsheets or games that are already installed on your machine.

While those steps may reduce the risk, "our advice is to upgrade," said Richard Yom, owner of the PC Clinic repair shop in San Jose. Still, he acknowledged, "some people will wait as long as they can."


-If you must keep using XP: Make sure you've got updated anti-malware programs, use Chrome or Firefox to browse the Web, and don't store or transmit sensitive information on your PC. Better still, disconnect from the Internet and only use software that's already installed.

-Consider upgrading to Windows 7 or 8, but be advised: Windows 7 is getting harder to find, and older computers may lack the memory and processing power to support Windows 8.

-Maybe it's time to buy a new computer: Check out the new Windows-based PCs, or maybe a Mac or Chromebook, which use operating systems from Apple and Google. For smaller budgets, consider a tablet.

Explore further

Microsoft hoping users will get friends, family to leave Windows XP

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Mar 26, 2014
Or you can make your PC secure for free and install a version of Linux. Most users only need a browser and Linux does a great job and is easy to install. OpenOffice will satisfy most home document needs.

Mar 26, 2014
In the beginning, Apple made the most popular OS. Then Windows stole that title but how did they do it? One of the best reasons was that MS offered developers a free SDK whereas Apple didn't. And therein lies the greatest reason of all to stick with Windows: No other OS even remotely comes close to offering hardware compatibility like Windows has. WIndows was user-friendly and had a beautiful (and very much emulated) GUI. Alas, WIndows 8 is user-hostile and ugly and they want to force XP users to switch? This could spell the end for WIndows and any other commercial wannabee OS. Too bad history proves open-source is all mouth and no chops. We need someone to bring an OS and manufacturers together so we can keep OSes like XP forever and ban OSes like WIndows 8. I wish BeOS could make a comeback because I'm tired of the endless cycle of expensive upgrades and feature-itus.

Mar 26, 2014
As part of their greedy scheme, Microsoft has been issuing garbage WINDOWS at intervals, pretty much every second major versions. They made XP a little too well so there now they go with fear threats. That is probably a good tactic and well that should clean out many servers running unpaid copies of XP instead of a paid for server editions. As for PCs being used for personal purposes well there is always windows server or 7 or the option of waiting for the next good version before purchasing an up to date PC.

Mar 26, 2014
I'm stuck with XP because it has multimonitor support. Vista and 7 claimed to have enhanced multimonitor support, but instead disable spanned modes. Duh. Nice foot-shot, M$. Their line is, span modes are a security vulnerability. Go figure... i've been using 'em for years and never once encountered any related security issues, hence they've disabled a vital feature to address a non-extant threat... with no option of user over-ride. Staggeringly incompetent decision..

The day my screen display mode gets hacked, i'll go out and buy Windows 7 x64 Ultimate with an effing cherry on top.

Mar 26, 2014
The span mode vulnerabilites have to do with how the system utilizes memory to handle the task. Ever gotten a virus? If your answer is no then you've either never connected to the internet on that machine or you are infected but have no clue. Let's say you have gotten a virus. How do you know it didn't use the span vulnerability? Do you prefer red or green maraschino?

Mar 27, 2014
@MrV...That sounds more like a video card problem. I'd look into an ATI Eyefinity capable card.

Mar 27, 2014
This is quite a bad article since you ignore the smartest option available: liberate yourself by installing GNU/Linux operating system and get all future upgrades of your OS for free.

Mar 27, 2014
I use XP + third party antivirus + firewall. I have never used any XP "security patch" and I never called XP for support. In what way the micro$oft's action will affect me?!
As long as my actual PC is working good for my daily activities, I will never change-it.

Mar 27, 2014
As an IT technician for 20 years I made the move to PCLinuxOS 6 years ago and I have never regretted it.
It's secure, fast and the community support is excellent., If that one is not to your taste try one of the hundreds of different varieties of linux such as Puppy Linux (for older machines) or Linux Mint.

Mar 27, 2014
I will keep my XP running. Hell! I keep a pooter here on Win2KPro and it LIKES the old games, maybe even better than the one running WinME. Course One day will move at least one of these to VM Ware Workstation run under S.u.S.E. Linux or Debian Linux. All those 'old' operating environments can shelter under the big arm of Linux. Screw Microsoft to the wall, proverbially!

Mar 27, 2014
WIndows was user-friendly and had a beautiful (and very much emulated) GUI . . . Too bad history proves open-source is all mouth and no chops.

I use X, MSWin, and Quartz. Of those, X (one of your maligned open source projects) wins hands down, both from user experience and from an app development perspective. By far the most configurable and adaptable to whatever my needs might be.

What parts do you find beautiful? Modal pop-unders? Games that have to reconfigure the entire display? Busy mouse pointer that erratically switches on and off and on again? The inability of the OS to run without the GUI component? Fonts like Ariel?
We need someone to bring an OS and manufacturers together so we can keep OSes like XP forever and ban OSes like WIndows 8.

Go for it.
I wish BeOS could make a comeback because I'm tired of the endless cycle of expensive upgrades and feature-itus.

There is Haiku
another of those darned open source projects.

Mar 27, 2014
The problem here is that millions of people used Windows XP, the computers they bought still work, and since the required processing power needed to do basic computing tasks has not increased in many years, then why would they upgrade? Vista was crap, Windows 7 is nice and Windows 8 is infuriating, but runs well.

So now M$ is saying they aren't going to support it any longer and users who bought computers as recently as 2007 or 2008, with Windows XP on board, are left out in the cold. What about the HUGE used computer market, with computers that perform just fine in an office setting, but cannot run the newer OS's? They are garbage now, too.

To summarize, since the Processing power needed in an Office Computer is much much less than a modern computer has, people have kept running Windows XP.

As a Technician, I find this to be a HUGE BLOW to small business, who use computers for as long as THEY FUNCTION, and now has to spend THOUSANDS because of M$'s decision here.

Mar 27, 2014
The span mode vulnerabilites have to do with how the system utilizes memory to handle the task. Ever gotten a virus? If your answer is no then you've either never connected to the internet on that machine or you are infected but have no clue. Let's say you have gotten a virus. How do you know it didn't use the span vulnerability? Do you prefer red or green maraschino?

Lol couid that explantion be more vague? I think the truth is, you've no more idea what the vulnerability is than me - and yes of course i've had malware infections, usully from browswer and Java explots, or the occassional dodgy crack... AFAIK there has NEVER been a WDDM attack anywhere on record, and yet spanning is something i DO depend on every day.

Again, if i had the option to use XP's WDDM on W7 i'd happilly accept and deal with any related security risk.. But M$ are denying us that option.

Mar 27, 2014
@MrV...That sounds more like a video card problem. I'd look into an ATI Eyefinity capable card.

Cheers but tried it already and it's terrible, totatally inadequate with tiny, grainy resolutions, inferior colour and disastrous driver provisions from ATi. Nvidia products are vastly superior in all these respects, but spanning is precluded by M$ from Vista onwards, due to this crippling new WDDM system.

I think their more recent cards may have a workaround, but i'd need to spend £200+ to buy one as powerful as my current model, plus the cost of the new OS on top of that, just to be able to do what i can already do in XP, and i just don't have money to burn like that..

Mar 27, 2014
Sorry to triple-post, but just a quick real-world example:

- an 8800 GTX will easily drive six screens at 1280 x 1024 each

- an HD 4850 will drive a maximum of three screens, at 800 x 600 each.

The Nvidia card has 750mb, the ATi has 1Gb... and all reviewers insist the 4850 beats the 8800 hands-down... yet the the reality is it manages less than half the workload, despite having 25% more memory. And despite having more than double the resolution, the Nvidia card is much faster and smoother. Nvidia cards simply do more, with less... but only if the OS lets them.. and XP is the last M$ OS that does so.

Mar 27, 2014
Ideal scenario = Microsoft (i'm being nice now) releases XP's source, allowing the user base to keep it updated, add DX10,11 and 12 support, sort out the scheduling and memory management quirks etc.

There's already an open source project to build an XP-alike OS from scratch - http://www.reactos.org/ - but it's slow progress. Making the XP codebase available would allow this to take off, and perhaps provide a viable open-source rival to Linux etc..

On the one hand it may seem like clear corporate suicide (who, M$? NEVER!) but on the other, it'd be little different to tolerating unlicensed copies of their OSes just to maintain dominance, which apparently they've done previously.. so it could be a win-win, or at least minimal loss, gesture..

Yep, i won't be holding my breath either..

Mar 27, 2014
Folks, when a January storm repeatedly power-cycled my lovely, lovely, twin graphic card, twin-screen, ex-CAD XP_PC, it trashed mobo, psu etc etc. I had to rush out and buy a new PC base unit, which came with Win 8.1. Stupid, stupid Winterface took a week to sanitise before I could do any real work...

But, I am again running twin-screens, with same total work-space of 2@1440*900. One is via the internal card, the other via an inexpensive USB 2.0 'Display Link' DL-165 adapter. (Size: PSU + 3x'C' cells) There's probably an enhanced USB 3.0 version available...

The big problem with switching to 8.1 (Beyond emasculating that stupid Metro Winterface !!) is getting compatible versions of your programs, not to mention drivers for essential oddities like label printers...

FWIW, while working down my long list of huge 8.1-specific down-loads, I came to IrfanView. By comparison with all that bloat-ware, this tightly-coded graphics gem still runs on anything from XP#0 onwards. {Kudos !!}

Mar 27, 2014
If you like Irfanview check out all the other great freeware must-haves on FinalBuilds.com

Incidentally, the multimonitor functionality i was on about (spanning) means multiple screens can be merged into a single unified output screen. This is different to simply extending the desktop or windowed apps over multiple screens. Effectively, in a spanned mode Windows only 'sees' one big screen, allowing you to switch to 'full screen' in an app or game using all monitors. Extended desktop, while still great, isn't quite the same thing..

And a tip for finding rare drivers - when all else fails and you're sure there's definitely no driver available for your hardware and OS, carefully open up the hardware and identify the big chips on the circuit board, then Google for similar kit that uses the same components... you may find a compatible driver from a different manufacturer. If needbe you can manually sign the driver .inf files & copy over the hardware IDs from your Device Manager..

Mar 29, 2014
If you are so dumb to not being able to format a hard disk and insert a cd in the reader, than you should definitively buy an Apple!

Mar 30, 2014
i won't switch to w7/8 on my laptop since it's a bit old and it can not handle w7/8's system load and lack of driver support. I don't see a big deal with this, just use a 3rd party firewall and AV (like everyone should do anyway) + some malware fighters for specific vulnerabilities and there u got it. Just make sure to back up the winxp drivers, since those fkheads (hardware companies and retailers) might be compelled to remove them from support.

Mar 30, 2014
an HD 4850 will drive a maximum of three screens, at 800 x 600 each.

I'm sorry, but that's bullshit. The 4850 is perfectly capable of running three monitors at full resolution, and that's only limited by the fact that it's a cheap budget GPU and the boards are unlikely to carry more than three connectors. Comparing it to an 8800 GTX is disingenuous because that was a top of the line model when new.

This sounds like a case of you not knowing what you're doing.

There are some cases where eyefinity will not work properly. One is when you're running the display through an adapter that cuts the EDID signals off so the computer doesn't know what resolution it has and defaults to some failsafe resolution such as 800x600, which forces all the other monitors to use the same. In this case you need to manually install the monitor's INF file and force the display mode.

Mar 30, 2014
- an HD 4850 will drive a maximum of three screens, at 800 x 600 each.

And I mean seriously. Did it not occur to you that the memory and processing required to run three 800x600 monitors is less than the memory required to run one single 1080p monitor due to the simple fact that there's 30% LESS pixels to render?

The maximum output resolution of the 4850 GPU is 2560x1600 as limited by the DVI standard. Given that it can run one monitor at this resolution, it hast to be able to run at least three monitors at 1280x1024 because again that's less pixels to render.

That fact alone should have told you that this is a simple PEBKAC situation.

Mar 30, 2014
Well sorry to have touched a nerve, your impassioned defence of ATi is truly inspiring.

FWIW tho i compared the 4850 because it was widely hailed as an 88xx beater, so its lower price seemed irrelevant. It's either more powerful, as claimed, or it isn't.

You're correct that i tested via adapters (2x Matrox TH2G) however the bottom line is that every Nvidia card i've tried in this config has worked right off the bat, using any correct driver, beta or WHQL... and conversely none of the ATi cards i've tried did so.

If you're certain that it COULD work then i believe you, however surely the point is that it either works out of the box, or it doesn't.. Nvidia cards simply don't require extra faffing around.

And this is typical of my experience with ATi - having to pick'n'mix components from older drivers just to fix the latest updates from ATi (hence "disastrous" - latest drivers shouldn't cause BSOD on boot).

Nvidia cards always correctly detect the optimum resolution available..

Mar 30, 2014
It is incredible the number of security updates KBxxxxxx for win 7, a flow, never ending, more than 150, even 200 , with bugs and leaking memory and crashes, corrected by some following KBxxxxx incompatible with older software, which becomes incompatible with some updates !!
Simply, to read a text in office send to you, with free Microsoft Office Word Viewer you have many KBxxxxxx to load more than 14 .
It is endless the microsoft bugs with security leaks !!
And it is well studied so that you must pay a new winX !!

XP on old computer has no such surprises , quite less leak of the memory, and old software working !!

And you need new winX because many hardware have no drivers for Linux !!

Mar 30, 2014
I do not need a touch screen. Windows XP is reliable and fills out all my computing needs.
The last Win XP updates that I installed was 8 years ago on a PC and 3 years ago on a laptop. I had to uninstall some of them beacuse the caused trouble.

Mar 31, 2014

Having given you the benefit of the doubt, i decided to double check, so i took 5 minutes today to go over your claims - the TH2G adapters DO provide proper EDID signals (hence why the Nvidia cards always work) - and the ATi cards simply cannot reach such resolutions.

1080p = 1920x1080 = 2,073,600, which is effectively their maximum resolution.

Hence the largest triplehead resolution the cards are capable of is 3 x 800 x 600 (1,440,000), as i correctly stated.

The next highest resolution beyond that would be 3 x 1024 x 768, which is 285,696 more pixels than 1080p and well beyond the ATi card's abilities.

The Nvidia cards, on the other hand, handle resolutions all the way up to 3840 x 2048 - 40% higher than the 2560x1600 you claim is the DVI hard limit..

Thus my appraisal was spot-on, and it is you who doesn't know what you're talking about...

And FWIW i'm no fan boy - if Eyefinity actually worked better than Nvidia span modes, i can assure you i'd already be using it..

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