Wednesday, Feb 05 2014 06:00 AM

Tech Wire: Alert: are you still running Windows XP?

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Matthew Sgherzi

On August 24, 2001, Microsoft released the best version of Windows and the absolute best computing experience at that time. When Windows XP was introduced, it shaped the way we use our computers including the demand we never knew we would have in terms of the software and hardware in the home and business. However, Windows XP is now over 12 years old, and like any other piece of software, whether it is popular or not, its lifespan is running out.

As we wrap up our monthly series on security and privacy, we will look at why not getting rid of Windows XP and upgrading to a newer operating system will pose a huge security risk to your computer's crucial data.

Microsoft announced within the past year that it will discontinue all technical support and automatic security updates for all versions of Office 2003 and Windows XP on April 8, 2014. This means that if your computer has Windows XP on it past April 8th, it will become far more vulnerable to security risks, vulnerabilities and becoming infected with malware since Microsoft will not patch it or provide any assistance.

It is also highly likely that hackers will be working around the clock on April 8 and 9 in order to find security risks that they know will not be patched in order to take control of a large number of computers. If you value not just your computer, but the information on your computer, it is incredibly important to get off of Windows XP and upgrade to a more secure version of Windows that will continue to be supported by Microsoft.

Why are they discontinuing support?

The reason Microsoft is discontinuing support for Office 2003 and Windows XP is due to several factors. First, the market for the amount of users running Windows XP is shrinking as newer technology evolves. Microsoft is spending money on supporting an operating system that, at the time of April 8th, will be over 12 and half years old. Not to mention that supporting an old operating system is distracting Microsoft from putting all of their resources into newer technology that is promised for the future. Every large software and hardware manufacturer eventually gets to the "End of Life" stage with all of their products, not just Microsoft.

What to do before April 8th

Before April 8th rolls around, you only have two options. The first option is to upgrade your current computer with a newer operating system. As long as your computer meets the minimum requirements, it can be upgraded to a newer version simply by purchasing a lesser expensive "upgrade" disc in the store or online. However, just because your computer meets the minimum recommendations for a newer operating system does not mean it will run fast, only that it will run.

Your options for a newer operating system are Windows Vista, 7 or 8. I highly recommend against upgrading to Windows Vista. I do not recommend upgrading to Windows 8/8.1 unless you are comfortable with its vastly different interface. If you prefer the comfort of an operating system that is as closest to Windows XP in functionality, use and reliability, I recommend Windows 7. Knowing whether you can upgrade to Windows 7 can easily be done by downloading, installing and running the "Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor" program from Microsoft (Google "windows 7 upgrade advisor" and click the 1st link). The upgrade advisor will run on your Windows XP computer and provide you a report to tell you whether or not your computer has the recommended minimum hardware to handle Windows 7.

The other option you have is to simply buy a new computer or device. By device, you can choose to buy a tablet rather than a new computer, which is what many are beginning to opt for. However, for most, a computer is necessary. If you would rather not spend $120 on a Windows 7 upgrade disc and would rather spend a few hundred more, you can get a brand new computer.

All computers sold today will be sold with Windows 8, since it's the latest operating system. If you still prefer Windows 7, there are a number of vendors, such as HP, who will give you the option of having Windows 7 on the computer, but only if you purchase it online. You can also purchase a computer that is marked "Refurbished". The term "Refurbished" does not mean the computer is partially broken. In California, new laws have been established which state that if someone simply opens the box of a computer, decides they don't want it and ship it back, the vendor has to mark is down as Refurbished. Refurbished computers, in most cases, are actually brand new. Websites such as NewEgg, TigerDirect and others sell refurbished computers loaded with Windows 7.

There comes a time where all hardware and software meets its end-of-life with support. Even something as beloved as Windows XP, which used to be my favorite operating system, has a limited lifespan. As newer operating systems emerge, eventually, many years down the road, the versions of Windows we use today will become outdated. As Microsoft now works on Windows "Threshold," scheduled to be released early next year, it is safe to assume that Windows Vista will slowly suffer the same fate as Windows XP on April 11, 2017, when Vista will also no longer be supported.

MATTHEW SGHERZI lives in Tehachapi where he has operated an IT business since 2007 (tehachapicomputers.com).


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