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Tech Works Corner

Surviving the End of the World
(if you are still living in Windows XP)

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The clock is counting down... if you're still living in Windows XP. The clock reaches zero on April 8, 2014.

It may be hard to believe, but Windows XP was first released more than 12 years ago (Aug. 2001). In computer years (like dog years) that was a lifetime ago! Since then, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 have been released and Microsoft has decided it is time for everyone to move on.

What does this mean to you if you're still using Windows XP after the clock reaches zero? ...No -- your computer will not shut down or blow up. But here are 3 things to consider:

The first point is perhaps the most serious consideration. Up to now Microsoft has been providing regular patches to Windows as new security vulnerabilities have been uncovered. This will stop when Microsoft's support ends. Although in theory, XP will be less of a target for writers of viruses, most of the viruses written for the newer versions of Windows will still attack XP systems.

Even when Windows updates are released for currently non-existent viruses, writers of malicious software will learn of the vulnerabilities from the updates themselves and then be able to create the software to attack unprotected systems, including Windows XP.

The last two points on the list above will, over time, gradually become a problem for you if you want to upgrade a Windows XP system, but may not be an urgent problem for you.

Surviving in the post-XP Era

Obviously, the best solution is to move on as Microsoft would like you to do. But what if you're depending on legacy software running on Windows XP systems? All is not lost if you can take some precautions.

The most serious problem will be that of the security of XP systems, so the only real solution is to isolate remaining XP systems from the internet, and from the other sources of virus infection such as external disks and flash drives. The solution can be as simple as disconnecting the system from all network connections (wired and wireless).

If a network of XP machines still need to exchange information among themselves, an isolated (wired) network is the solution. The goal here is to prevent connection between the XP machines and the internet, or with machines connected to the internet. When data needs to be transferred in or out of the isolated network, it should be on flash or external disk drives which carry only data files known to be free of malicious software -- certainly NO executable files should be exchanged!

Can this solution work? It may be a pain, but it should protect you if you observe the caution about transferring data. It has worked for me for over a decade. I'm still running Windows 98 on one system connected to a scanner for which drivers were never updated beyond Windows 98.

Moving On...

If moving to a newer version of Windows is an option, my current (conservative) recommendation is to move to Windows 7 and not 8. Although Windows 8 is the most current, the jury still seems to be out on it. Besides, in case you haven't heard, there is supposed to be a curse on the "even" releases of Windows. Windows 98 = good, Windows ME = bad, Windows XP = good, Windows Vista = bad, Windows 7 = good, Windows 8 = bad (???). Time will tell.

In the mean time, though it is getting harder, you may still be able to find vendors (such as Dell) who offer Windows 7 as an option with a new system.

If your needs are simple (e.g. browsing the web, writing email), moving to Windows 8 or another operating system entirely is certainly an option. Apple Macintosh or Linux (Ubuntu) or even Google Chrome systems are options.


Related: A bit of life-support for XP