What to do if you’re still on Windows XP: should I upgrade from Windows XP?
Another option is to keep your old XP installation on your hard disk, so you can boot into it occasionally when needed. A dual-boot configuration will take up much more storage space than picking one or the other, so whether or not it’s practical will depend on the size of your hard disk, but if you have the room it’s a viable way to transition – even if only for a short time while you’re working out the best Linux equivalents of your current XP tools.
The option to create a dual-OS system used to be offered by Ubuntu’s Windows-based installer, but this has recently been dropped, owing to compatibility issues with Windows 8. To set it up manually, first follow the instructions above to create a bootable USB drive or an installation CD; then choose the option to install Ubuntu when you reach the boot menu. If the installer recognises XP properly you’ll be offered the option to install Ubuntu alongside it, and to choose your own storage distribution. If not, choose “Something else” and you’ll be taken to the partition menu to handle things manually.
Select the Windows partition and choose a new, smaller size for it – you’ll want to free up at least 10GB for Ubuntu. Create a dedicated “swap partition” of at least your amount of RAM (2,000MB is a good value), and then create a partition for Ubuntu itself from the remaining free space. At this point, to be safe, it’s a good idea to reboot into Windows XP to allow the system to check everything has been reorganised correctly. If it’s working fine, boot back into the installer and complete the Ubuntu installation onto your free partition. Then each time you boot you’ll receive the choice of OSes.
If you later decide you don’t need Windows XP, just run the installer again and use the partition tool to erase XP. You can then format that free space and use it as extra Ubuntu storage.
What to do if you’re still on Windows XP: Should I stick with XP?
In some circumstances, moving away from XP may not make sense. Perhaps you have a new fleet of office hardware on the way in the summer; or maybe the PC is used by someone who won’t be able to learn another interface and a new way of doing things. Sticking with XP after support ends should really only be a last resort, but if you need to do it then there are steps you can take to make yourself as secure as possible.
First, you should already be on Service Pack 3, and make sure you get every single available update from Microsoft – important, recommended or otherwise – before they stop coming in April. Many malware and hacker attacks exploit vulnerabilities that have in fact already been patched, so staying as up to date as possible can reduce your exposure.
Next, make sure you’re protected with security software. Microsoft offers a Windows XP version of Microsoft Security Essentials, but you should consider a third-party security suite such as the A-Listed Avast 2014: it’s free and, in the PC Pro Labs, it proved more effective than Microsoft’s own tool at intercepting threats. Set it to update itself automatically and run a regular full scan, and make sure that all useful features are enabled; tools such as automatic web page and network scanning provide a valuable extra layer of defence.
If your PC is connected to the internet via a router, this will automatically provide a degree of protection against intruders. If your router has a built-in firewall, make sure it’s active, and check Windows’ software firewall is enabled: it should be turned on by default in SP3, but if it’s not, go to Network And Internet Connections in the control panel, then click “Set up or change your home or small-office network”. Follow the steps to turn on the firewall.