Definitive Guide To Surviving The Death Of Windows XP

| March 16, 2014

On April 8th 2014, Microsoft will unplug life support for Windows XP. There will be no more security updates or tech support for the beloved Operating System that has been the workhorse OS for business and home users for the past 12 years. But what does this mean for the millions of users still running Windows XP on their computers? Is it still safe? Is it time to buy new hardware or is there a way to install a more current Operating System?

windows xp end of life

The following are a series of questions and answers posed to tech professionals in our forums:

If a relative of yours is still running Windows XP on April 9th, what advice would you give them?

Dr Bob: Do not panic and run out and buy anything with a shiny new Windows 7 or 8 sticker.  All of the updates up until the end will still be available via Windows Update after the fact.  There will be a grace period after XP support ends where everything is still fine, but once the hackers figure out new holes, you will be vulnerable.  So either be very vigilant in your web based activities, malware/virus scanning, programs and emails or upgrade to a new OS/PC.  It might not be a bad time to update to 7 just to get your feet wet for the newer OS like Windows 8 and beyond.

Dave: If you’re going to stick with XP, it’s important to tighten up the security the best way you can. Do the following:

  • Proceed to Windows Update and grab the last of the updates.
  • Uninstall the applications that are chronic entry points for malware, such as Java and Adobe Reader.
  • Run As A Standard User – Chances are you user account has administrative privileges, meaning you have the ability to install applications and change the computer’s configuration. If you’re running as administrator, a virus attempting to run on your system also has admin rights. Create a new user account and give it administrator rights.  Then log into that new admin account and change your current user account to a standard user.
  • Change Your Browser – If you use the default Internet browser on Windows XP, chances are it’s, at best, IE 8. The current version is IE11 and since XP cannot use any other version beyond IE8, it’s best to change your web browser to something more modern, like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

People who are running Windows XP might not be able to upgrade their Operating System to Windows 7 or 8 due to hardware incompatibility. What advice would you give them?

Dave: Again, if you’re forced to stay with XP, do what you can to lock it down. If you are not comfortable having that machine online, disconnect your Internet and use it as a stand-alone computer until you can upgrade.

Dr Bob: Same as the advice above actually if it is an individual.  A company would receive different advice unless sitting behind a hefty physical firewall and limited user activity with the outside world.  Companies stand to lose a lot more if one of their outdated XP machines catches a cold.  Financial info as well as company specific data could be lost or worse sold to the competition.  Personally, here where I work, I am going to try and keep all XP machines off the internet but still allow them intranet access before they are eventually upgraded.

Is Linux really a viable Operating System for grandma? If so, what version would you recommend?

Dr Bob: Honestly, I think yes.  Most desktop versions of Ubuntu and various other flavors of Linux are easily customizable to make it a “click to run” scenario just as Windows would have been for them.  In my case, I am the tech support for everyone in the family and most of the older generation doesn’t try and install anything or do much other than email, internet, games, and MS Office type stuff.  Those can be implemented via a single icon on the desktop, Firefox, and Open Office on Ubuntu…

Dave: Linux has come a long way and now has a Graphical User Interface most people can navigate without any issues. All you have to do is set up LibreOffice, install your favorite web browser and you’re all set!

If someone digs their heels in and simply refuses to upgrade their Operating System, what advice can you provide to make them more secure?

Dave: Some people have to run Windows XP due to a particular program that only runs on that Operating System. If this is the case, you can always run Windows XP virtually using a program called Virtual Box. Aside from running XP in a virtual machine, I recommend running as a limited user, as I stated earlier.

PCS: Users should be more vigilant and better educated about malware, and the security of their machines after the end of support for XP.  Security vulnerabilities that are present in the XP operating system itself will not be address by Microsoft.  Users should familiarize themselves with this basic idea and understand that they will be more vulnerable after support ends.  There are already over 20 known vulnerabilities related to Windows XP, and likely more to be discovered after support ends, due to the fact that Microsoft will no longer address them.

Dr Bob: Learn how viruses and malware generally work.  Understanding the basics of how you are going to be attacked on a daily basis will help you to curb your browsing and email opening.  Those are the two main ways my clients get into trouble along with the occasional drive-by virus.  Know where to go to look for bad sites or have a program like SiteAdvisor, keep your AV/AM updated and firing on all cylinders, and do not open every attachment.  This will not protect them 100% of the time, but will greatly reduce the risk of infection.

This type of information is what I give to anyone looking to avoid viruses / Trojans and are willing to learn why they get them.  Knowledge is power.

What is the best way to backup your data when moving to XP?

Dr Bob: This is more of a difficult question to answer being on the inside.  Personally, a network share, clone to a backup HDD, or USB would be quick ways to go about it.  Depends on how much data we are talking.  If you had your PC set up correctly in the first place, you would have all of your data on a secondary HDD that is already installed on the XP machine.  Then you would just format and install 7 or 8 on your current XP drive.  But since most people only have one drive which contains the OS and data, that won’t work.  As stated before, Windows Easy Transfer and other similar tools will help a lot. You should already have a current backup of your data because constant backups will save you a huge headache for when, NOT IF, your HDD fails.

Dave: Since there is no direct upgrade path from XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8, you will be performing a custom (or clean) install. You can backup your data by going to My Computer and clicking on the c drive, and then copy the Documents and Settings folder. This will grab all of the user’s data using that computer. You can copy this data to a large external hard drive. Once you install your new Operating System, you can navigate through the folders you backed up and transfer the documents, music, desktop, pictures and favorites over to your new build.

How can you tell if your XP machine is compatible with Windows 7 or Windows 8?

Dr Bob: First thing you would need to do is to see if your machine even meets the base minimum system requirements. The system Requirements For Windows 7 and Windows 8 are:

  • Processor: 1GHz CPU or faster
  • RAM: 1GB (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit)
  • Disk space: 16GB (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics: DirectX 9-capable video card with WDDM driver
  • Monitor: 1366×768 min to run the Windows Store and to snap apps
  • To Run Windows XP Mode (Win 7): additional 1GB or RAM and 15GB of HDD space

If you don’t meet these, then don’t even think about trying to upgrade that old hardware.  If your machine does meet or exceed the requirements, next would be to track down the drivers for your hardware and make sure they are available.  Without the correct drivers your hardware will not function properly in a Windows 7 or 8 environment.  If both of those check out, you should be able to run Windows 7 or 8 without issue.  The only issue with new OS and old hardware, if might not be as crisp as you wish with a new OS install due to the old hardware’s limitations.

In Conclusion:

PCS: Here are some links on XP’s end of support.  There is tons of information out there to be found.  I picked these links to post as they are from Microsoft and some of the major tech blogs/sites like Sophos.com and techtarget.com.  These are good reads and many contain further links to more specific information on the end of support topics/issues.

Microsofts end of XP support: http://www.microsoft…dofsupport.aspx
Microsoft – What it means if your version of Windows is no longer supported: http://windows.micro…of-support-mean
How end of support will effect your desktop applications (techtarget.com): http://searchvirtual…op-applications
Naked Security (sophos.com) – on XP’s end of support: http://nakedsecurity…tarts-tomorrow/
Windows lifecycle website: http://windows.micro…ndows/lifecycle
Windows Experience blog for the new XP data transfer tool: http://blogs.windows…ifications.aspx

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Category: Windows

Dave

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Dave has been providing free computer repair and tech support advice online since 2002. Join us on our forums and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for weekly tips and other helpful computer articles. Connect with me on: Google+

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  1. JB says:

    You should let them know about the Windows 7 upgrade advisor:

    Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor

    They can run that on their computer, and it will let them know if it is compatible or not.

  2. Larry F says:

    Good point about switching to a standard user account. That’s one I hadn’t considered.

    I’ll have to disagree about removing Java and Reader. Yes, they are occasionally used as malware delivery portals. Guess what? Oracle and Adobe know it, and issue frequent security updates. I’ve heard so-called experts say that Java is barely used on the internet. That’s so wrong it boggles the mind. Java is used on virtually every web site that serves active content cross-platform. For example, Facebook and all of the sites that deliver online gaming like Pogo and Big Fish depend on it to deliver their content. That means it’s only rare among sites that do not get millions of users daily. The same goes for Reader; if you go looking for a product user’s manual on the internet, chances are it’ll be a PDF file.

    I’ll advise my customers to remove Java and Reader when someone writes a better programming language to do what Java does, and when someone writes a better program than Reader to display printed literature… and they get widely adopted by web site developers. So far, even after they’ve both been around for decades, no one has.

    Until then, I’m not about to tell folks that they can’t go to Facebook anymore because some guy who thinks he knows what’s best for everyone else thinks they shouldn’t use Java.