Windows XP end of life: key information

Darien Graham-Smith
24 Mar 2014

Windows XP support will end on 8 April. After that date, Microsoft won't provide any more updates. Yet many millions of people are still using the veteran OS: recent figures suggest that it’s still running on around 30% of PCs worldwide, many of them in businesses.

Understandably, there’s a lot of doubt and concern over what’s going to happen next. If you’re still running XP, here are the straightforward answers to the key questions.

1. Is Windows XP going to stop working?

Windows XP itself will keep on working after 8 April. The important change is that after this date, Windows Update will stop providing patches for the operating system -- and that includes security updates.

As time goes by you'll be increasingly leaving yourself open to hacker attacks

2. Can I keep running without security updates?

You can, but it's extremely risky. Without updates, any future vulnerabilities discovered in the OS will remain forever unpatched -- so as time goes by you'll be increasingly leaving yourself open to hacker attacks. These could interfere with the programs you run, steal your email and banking details or even try to extort money from you via so-called “ransomware” attacks.

3. Won’t my antivirus software protect me?

To an extent, yes. Several third-party antivirus publishers have promised to carry on supporting Windows XP after the cut-off date, and Microsoft has said that its own Security Essentials product will continue to receive signature updates “for a limited time”. This can protect you against many types of attack, such as those that target your web browser or email client.

However, if hackers can exploit low-level vulnerabilities in the operating system then in theory they could circumvent or disable your antivirus defences. Some experts suspect that online criminals are already planning such an attack, and are simply waiting for XP updates to end before unleashing it.

4. What do I need to do?

Your best course of action is to stop using Windows XP as soon as possible, and to upgrade to a more recent OS. If your current PC meets the hardware requirements it’s possible to download and install Windows 8.1 over the top of XP; alternatively, you can simply buy a new PC with Windows 8 preinstalled. Either way, you’ll have to reinstall all your applications: there’s no way to perform an “in-place” upgrade from XP to Microsoft’s latest OS.

5. Is upgrading to Windows 8 my only option?

If you don’t get on with Windows 8, it’s still possible to buy Windows 7. Alternatively, you could migrate to a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint, or buy a Mac and switch to OS X. The important thing is no longer to rely on Windows XP. If you have an application or piece of hardware that requires XP to run, you may be able to install XP in a virtual machine. If you really need to keep your old XP machine around, we strongly recommend you disconnect it permanently from the internet so as to minimise the danger of its being attacked.

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