I wrote a while back about what to do if you have a computer running Windows XP, in light of Microsoft discontinuing support for the venerable operating system. At the time, my recommendation was to not panic, and keep using the system if it works for you, and keep an eye out for any new security vulnerabilities were discovered that might be a problem.
So, what’s new?
Well, now a news has hit the Internet that says all versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer — the web browser which is built-in to every version of Windows — have a very serious flaw which could allow a hacker to get into your system. You would have to go to a website that has some specific malicious code on it to fall victim to the flaw, which isn’t going to happen to everybody, but it’s still a big risk to leave your system unpatched — and Windows XP will not get a patch from Microsoft. If you’re using Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8.1, you’ll get that patch very soon.
The risk is great enough that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued an advisory, telling users of Windows XP to stop using Internet Explorer, and instead use a different browser, like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, or Opera.
I’ve been saying that for years. But I digress.
This brings up two issues: First, will switching browsers be easy, and will it keep my computer safe? Second, is NOW the time to ditch Windows XP for good?
Moving to another browser isn’t too hard. As you install Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera (or any of a dozen other browsers you might find, if you look for a while), the installers will ask if you want to import information from IE. Usually, they will import bookmarks, history, some saved passwords, and auto-fill information, if you’re using that. Once that information has been imported, you’re off and running.
Also see my article on passwords for suggestions about using a password manager, to keep your saved passwords independent of your browser, adding one more layer of security to your system.
With a less-likely-to-be-a-problem browser, you can dodge this particular bullet. However, there will be other bugs and security holes found in Windows XP in the future, so at some point, you will need to move forward, either by upgrading Windows on your existing computer, or moving to a new computer.
So, YES, start making steps toward replacing your old computer that is running Windows XP.
Make a migration plan
I think it’s prudent to start making a plan now for some kind of upgrade, whether it will be on your existing computer with a new version of Windows, or to a new computer. My general recommendation is that if you computer is less than 5 years old, it may be a good candidate for an upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 (Actually Windows 8.1 performs better on older computers than Windows 7 — go figure!). It wouldn’t hurt to give the hardware a once-over before making that choice; a new hard drive or a little more memory could help extend the life of the computer a bit.
At some point, though, you will need to replace the computer you have, whether it’s now, a year from now, or even farther out. So make some decisions and preparations now for that eventuality.
First, know where your data is on your computer. are all of your files in the “My Documents” folder? Are some on a second hard drive? Is your email in Outlook, Windows Mail, or do you only access it through Yahoo or Gmail via your (non-IE on XP) web browser? Are you using cloud storage, like Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive?
Next, make sure you have a good backup scheme for your data. Do you copy your important files to a flash drive or CD-ROM once a week/month, and store that in a safe place? Or do you use an external backup drive — and is the backup software actually WORKING? How about an online backup service, like Crashplan, or my new favorite, Backblaze?
Once you’ve got your data and its safety nailed down, you have the luxury of time to think about your next computer. There are several choices to make: How much do you want to spend? What is the timeframe for replacing your computer? Do you need top-of-the-line performance for graphics or gaming, or an average performer for everyday work? Will it be a desktop or a laptop? Will you stay with Windows, or move to Mac?
I’d suggest starting with cost: set in your mind how much you are willing to spend on the new computer first. With that in mind, start shopping around for things that fit into that expectation. Don’t get bogged down in the dizzying number of options and technical specifications — those are for the geeks. Stick with good brand names, like Dell, HP, Lenovo, or ASUS.
If a new computer is out of your reach right now, start putting money aside for it. Let’s all be good little savers, now, and avoid the credit cards!
Pay attention to the programs you will need to have on a new computer, and realize that you can’t copy programs over the way you can your data. Each program will have to be installed fresh, so make sure you have your installation discs or downloaded installers available. Or look for new versions from the software publisher, and decide if you want to spend the money on those upgrades, as well.
With those decisions made ahead of time, you’ll be in a good position when it’s time to upgrade — whether by choice or as the result of a computer failure.
Here’s the recap, for those of you who are still awake:
- If you’re still on Windows XP, stop using Internet Explorer.
- If you’re still on Windows XP; make plans to move off of it.
- Know where your data is on your computer and/or in the cloud.
- Use a good backup strategy, and make sure it’s working.
- Decide how much money you’ll spend on your next computer.
- Decide some of the specifics of the new computer — laptop/desktop, brand, etc.
- Make sure you have your program installers.
How long should you wait? Let me make this suggestion: Have a plan to be DONE with Windows XP by the end of the 2014, whether by upgrading your existing computer or replacing it.
Questions? Contact me using the form on this page.