What to do if you’re still on Windows XP: should I upgrade from Windows XP?

Microsoft officially withdrew its support for Windows XP on 8 April 2014, after 13 years of loyal service. This is where were tackle the question “what should I do if I am still running Microsoft XP?”

For an OS that’s three releases behind the times, this shouldn’t be big news, but XP has proved remarkably tenacious. Net Applications measured 31.2% of the world’s PCs still running XP in October 2013.

That’s a problem: when Microsoft stops supporting an OS, it doesn’t only withdraw its technical-support services – it also stops updating the software. Among other things, this means no more monthly fixes to protect against new viruses and malware. Anybody still using XP will be stuck with the OS as it stands on that final day, and you can expect any security vulnerabilities subsequently discovered to be ruthlessly targeted.

What to do if you’re still on Windows XP

Carrying on without support and an increased security risk is an unappealing prospect, so if you don’t have a migration plan, it’s really time you put one together. In many cases, your easiest option will be simply to buy a new PC with a more up-to-date version of Windows preinstalled – especially if your current system dates from the early years of Windows XP. But if that doesn’t suit, there are several other options for a Windows XP system that’s reaching the end of the line.

What to do if you’re still on Windows XP: Upgrading to a newer version of Windows

If your system isn’t too ancient, you can upgrade it to a more recent edition of Windows and carry on with minimal disruption. Microsoft lists the core requirements for Windows 8 as a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and a 20GB hard disk. That means all but the oldest PCs should be able to cope, perhaps with some extra system RAM or storage. If you plan to upgrade your hardware, make sure you buy the right parts for the sockets on your motherboard, which may predate modern standards.

You can check exactly how ready your PC is for Windows 8 by downloading Microsoft’s Upgrade Assistant. This free tool will scan your system and check that it meets the hardware requirements, and if you connect your peripherals it will scan those for compatibility too. Assuming everything is in order, you’ll then get the option to purchase and download Windows 8.

The Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant will check your system for compatibility with Microsoft's newest OS

Be warned that when you upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 8, all settings and applications will be wiped. Your personal files will be safe, but you’ll need to track down installers for all the programs you want to keep using.

What to do if you’re still on Windows XP: Software compatibility

The good news is that most software that runs in Windows XP should also work in Windows 8. If you hit problems with a particular application, try running it in Compatibility Mode. To do this, right-click its icon and choose Troubleshoot Compatibility – or search your computer for “Run programs made for previous versions of Windows”. Follow the onscreen instructions to see if the application fares better with settings that emulate an older edition of the operating system.

Windows 8 isn’t your only upgrade option. Since its touch-focused features won’t be relevant to your old system, you may prefer to upgrade to Windows 7. Again, there’s an Upgrade Advisor tool that you can use to check that your hardware and peripherals are all compatible with Windows 7. Consumer licences are no longer sold by Microsoft, but you can still obtain them from online retailers, and the software will continue to receive security updates until 2020 at the earliest (see Support lifecycles, below).

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