Moving on: key considerations to change from Windows XP

With support for Microsoft Windows XP ended, users are being advised to upgrade or change the Operating System on their computing devices. Three key steps are discussed.

Microsoft Windows XP boot screen (DrJohnBullas, flickr)

Whether you loved it or hated it, the end of support for Microsoft Windows XP, which officially ended on 8 April 2014, signifies the end of an era. Released publicly on 25 October 2001, the Windows XP Operating System (OS) would have replaced the relatively short-lived Windows 2000 and Windows ME, but also the more popular Windows 98. Officially, it was succeeded by Windows Vista in 2007, but remained highly popular, since it was being supported by Microsoft.

However, with that support now ended, and no further security upgrades or patches being released, it means that its users will be more vulnerable to a wide range of security risks. Network security specialists, both regionally (such as the Caribbean Cyber Security Center) and internationally, expect more threats targeted at devices running Windows XP, which is still popular among governments and large corporates worldwide.

At the same time, it is important to highlight that although Microsoft had been issuing security patches for Windows XP, as needed, it was not necessarily upgrading the component applications. For example, the version of Internet Explorer (IE) in Windows XP was version 8, but the latest version is actually version 11. Hence, IE8 could be considered obsolete in comparison to IE11, and noting the sophisticated threat landscape that currently exists, IE8 would be more susceptible than the most current version.

The issue is the threats are more sophisticated, yet XP dates from an earlier generation of technology, according to Sophos’ James Lyne.

“Undoubtedly these XP devices already represent a significantly higher risk from a security standpoint than more modern operating systems like Windows 7 and Windows 8,” he said.

“That’s already the case and will only become exponentially more so over time past when Microsoft stops maintaining it.”

(Source: ZDNet)

What are your options?

Although persons are free not to change their OS from Windows XP, it is strongly recommended that they do. First, for those who are diehard Windows users, there is always the option to upgrade to one of the recent OSs, such as Windows 8. However, depending on the age of your device, the installation might be time consuming and possibly have a few quirks.

On the other hand, for those who might be of the view that there will be a learning curve regardless of the OS selected, or might be thinking of replacing their existing PC (or laptop), there are different OSs to consider, which tend to fall in to the following four general categories:

  • Google Chrome OS/Chromium OS – Chromium OS is a variation of Google’s Chrome OS that be used on generic computing devices, as opposed to the latter, which is designed to work with specific Google-sanctioned hardware and software. However, both Chrome and Chromium OS are highly streamlined programmes that are geared primarily to those who spend considerable amounts of time online.
  • Apple Mac OS – this OS, like many of the products produced by this manufacturer, is highly popular among its users, and is enticing new fans with each new release. However, if installing a Mac OS on a PC is the desired approach, it is not readily recommended. Installation of the Mac OS on a non-Apple device is likely to contravene the End User License Agreement for the OS, and compatibility issues with the hardware frequently occur. Hence, this option could be left to the adventurous techie who might be up to the challenge.
  • UNIX and UNIX-like OS – for the ordinary computer user, UNIX and some of its derivatives might not be as user friendly as Windows. Nevertheless, they could be considered, especially for specific functions or areas in the enterprise environment.
  • Linux – a popular UNIX-like OS, which has been developed and distributed as free and open source software (FOSS), and generally, can be installed on a PC without much difficulty.  A number of branded Linux OSs are available, such as Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, CentOS and Red Hat, all of which might have a slightly different look and feel, and set of features.

The OS may be only half the battle

Having selected which OS to transition to, it is also important to give some thought to whether or not, or the extent to which, one’s existing user applications, such as those for word processing, email management, etc., will be compatible with the new OS. If continuing with another Microsoft Windows OS, the difficulties experienced tend to be minimal, especially if products from the Microsoft family of applications are also being used.

However, if a non-Microsoft OS has been selected, the accompanying software applications would most likely need to change as well. Many of the basic products, although they might be proprietary, are available either free of cost or for a nominal fee; but there may also be a range of FOSS options from which to choose.

Remember to back-up!

Finally, depending on the OS to be installed, it may either require the hard drive to be reformatted or all traces of the old OS to be removed, which can result in irrevocable loss of user generated files and information. Hence, once the new OS has been selected, but before its installation commences, please remember to back up all important documents, Internet bookmarks, files, etc., in order to be safe than sorry.


Image credit:  DrJohnBullas (flickr)