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FAQ: Good-bye old pal, old paint, Windows XP

Gregg Keizer | April 9, 2014
Today's the day: Microsoft will serve up its final public patches for Windows XP, the aging OS that's been around since 2001.

Two months ago Microsoft appealed to its technically-astute customers, asking them to help friends and family migrate from XP to Windows 8.1. Those users hooted Microsoft down, telling the company that would be the last thing they did before the friends and family broke off the relationship.

If you want Windows 8.1, bite the bullet and buy new hardware that has a touch screen.

But hasn't Microsoft stopped selling Windows 7? Where do I get a copy?

True. Microsoft halted sales of Windows 7 last October on its own e-store, and stopped shipping new copies to distributors around that same time. But copies of Windows 7 are easily found online, including at stalwart outlets like Amazon.com and Newegg.com, which have stockpiled the OS. Windows 7 will be available for years, even to consumers and very small businesses.

What about a new device?

You don't have to buy another Windows-powered PC. This would be a perfect time, if you're so inclined, to shift platforms, say, to a cheap Chromebook, a tablet, or a more-expensive MacBook Air or MacBook Pro from Apple.

After you choose a platform — Windows, Chrome OS, Android, OS X or iOS — you can upload the important files from your old Windows XP machine to a cloud-based storage service, like OneDrive, Google Drive or iCloud using the respective browser-based interface. Once in the cloud, those files can be accessed from or downloaded to your new device.

I'm going to stick with Windows XP. What can I do to stay safe, or at least safer, even if Microsoft doesn't patch the OS anymore?

Recommendations from both Microsoft and outside security experts have focused on two broad moves: Try to secure the PC, operating system and other software as much as possible, and second, limit what an XP-powered machines does. The former attempts to defend the machine as best as one can from exploits, while the former hopes to avoid the most common attack vectors.

On Defense No. 1 — securing the PC — there are numerous bullet-point recommendations from both industry experts, like this one from Directions on Microsoft, and security professionals, such as this one from Sophos. Both urge users to run up-to-date antivirus software and keep other components, which are hacked far more frequently than the OS, like browsers, browser plug-ins, and popular platforms like Java and Adobe Flash, patched.

Defense No. 2 may work for some companies — which can isolate some or all of their XP machines — but is nearly worthless for consumers. Why? If they stop browsing and stop reading email, what's the point of owning the PC in the first place? These days, when legitimate websites serve malware and cyber criminals have had years to hone their phishing pitches, it's nearly impossible for most users to never stray into the darker alleys of the Internet.

 

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