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If you’re still using Windows XP on any of your home or small business computers, I’m sorry to tell you that you MUST upgrade to a newer version of Windows, as soon as you possibly can.
Microsoft No Longer Supports Windows XP
This means Microsoft is no longer offering any kind of technical support for XP, and they are no longer releasing any Windows updates for XP—not even critical security updates.
You might think this is no big deal, but don’t kid yourself: hackers are finding new security holes in old computer programs every day, and even though XP is a very old operating system some experts estimate as many as 30% of all Windows users are still using XP. That statistic, taken together with the fact that Microsoft will no longer be patching any security holes in XP, makes Windows XP a very attractive hacker target.
At this point, you’re going to want to be running Windows 7 or higher—but don’t rush right out to buy new Windows software, because you’ve probably got a hardware problem, too.
Upgrading Won’t Be Fun, Cheap Or Easy, But It’s Necessary
The latest versions of the most popular productivity and gaming programs demand a much more efficient operating system than Windows XP, and in most cases the latest version of a given program is simply incompatible with Windows XP. You were going to have to upgrade at some point, but now, your hand has been forced.
Unfortunately this is NOT one of those situations where you can simply install a software upgrade on your existing computer, either. If you’re still running Windows XP chances are good you’re running it on an old computer that’s been limping along for years. An old computer will not have the necessary power or memory to run currently-supported versions of Windows, so for most people, this “upgrade” will actually consist of buying a new computer that already has a currently-supported version of Windows installed.
Fortunately, tech just keeps getting cheaper. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that buying a brand new computer may actually cost you LESS than you paid for that old XP clunker all those years ago. Also, if it’s been a while since you’ve been computer shopping, you’ll find that today’s laptops can be every bit as powerful and feature-packed as the ‘tower’ desktops of yesteryear—and they’re designed to work as wireless, portable devices to boot! You shouldn’t have to spend any more than $450 on a new laptop to suit a typical user’s workaday needs, and you may even be able to find a quality laptop priced lower than that.
The laptop pictured above, the Toshiba Satellite C55-A5245, is currently priced at $415 on Amazon, it comes with Windows 7 pre-installed, it’s eligible for free Prime shipping, and it’s got an average review rating of 4/5 stars across over 200 customer reviews.
When I’m in the market for a new computer, my go-to brand for affordable reliability is Toshiba. I’ve owned DELL, HP, Sony, Acer, MacBook and Toshiba computers in the past, and Toshiba’s the only one that has never let me down. They age like any computer will, and like any computer will have to be replaced every five years or so, but my Toshibas have always been reliable workhorses that deliver a lot of bang for the buck, are easy to upgrade if necessary, and never have a problem “talking” to the rest of my network and tech devices.
Get A Windows 7 Machine If You Can
Windows 8.1 is the most recent version of Windows, and it’s the only one available for purchase by consumers as a standalone product. The only way for a typical consumer to get Windows 7 is to buy a new computer that already has Windows 7 installed, and that’s exactly what I recommend you do. Windows 8 was Microsoft’s first foray into a touchscreen-based operating system. It was designed to work on either touchscreen computers or via the usual keyboard and mouse combo, but consumer reviews pretty clearly indicated it wasn’t very good on either type of machine. Windows 8.1 is a more recent release that aims to resolve the bugs and “usability” issues of Windows 8, but Windows 7 is still the safer bet in my opinion, for two reasons:
1) Windows 7 has been around longer. It’s a “mature” operating system: the major kinks and bugs have been worked out, and it’s been running smoothly on home and office computers for years. Windows 7 is what’s currently running on all the computers in my home, and I’ve been very happy with it.
2) If you’ve been living in a Windows XP computer world up until now, making the switch to Windows 8.1 will be a bit of a shock. While the Windows 7 desktop looks a little different than the XP desktop you’re used to, the Windows 8 desktop was completely redesigned to make it look and act more like the operating system on touchscreen devices like iPads.
While it’s possible to make a Windows 8 or 8.1 machine show you a “classic” desktop view that more closely resembles Windows 7, if you have no idea how to “work” the Windows 8.1 operating system it won’t be easy for you to figure out how to do this. Initially you’ll just be staring at a desktop that doesn’t have the familiar “start” button or menu ribbon, and if you’re not the type of person who likes puttering around and experimenting with computer stuff you’re in for a lot of frustration.
Would This Be A Good Time To Ditch Microsoft Altogether By Getting A Chromebook?
Probably not. While Chromebooks are generally a lot less expensive than regular laptops (the Toshiba Chromebook pictured above is currently priced at $275, for example), they’re not truly comparable to full-fledged laptops.
Chromebooks are designed to work primarily with web-based programs and services, where most of your file storage is in a Cloud somewhere online and most of your computer use is limited to web-based activities. This means Chromebooks will have much less on-board memory for file storage or installing programs, and that their functionality is significantly impaired anytime they don’t have a web connection. While cloud computing is the wave of the future, we’re not quite there yet and you’re probably not quite ready to give up all the offline functionality you’ve enjoyed up to now.
Also, Chromebooks are tied to the Google tech “ecosystem”: they’re designed to work best with Google’s own software, sites and services. There’s no support for installation or use of traditional PC software (e.g., MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, etc.) on a Chromebook. Click here to learn more about the important differences between Chromebooks and traditional laptop computers.
Is It Possible To Transfer All The Programs & Content From The Old Machine To The New One?
Yes and no. While copying your content files from the old machine to the new one is as easy as, well, copying your content files from the old machine to the new one, you will likely find that many of your old software programs aren’t compatible with current versions of Windows. In some cases you may even find that there’s no longer a compatible version of a given program available at all.
Yes, unfortunately this means you’re going to have to buy new software for all the most critical things you do on your computer, but if you’re in a financial pinch you can at least avoid buying MS Office for the time being. There are alternative, FREE (totally legal) programs that work and look very similar to MS Office, can open MS Office files, and can even save your files in MS Office file formats. OpenOffice is the one I recommend; click here to read my DMM post about it.
And don’t forget your antivirus software. The one I use and recommend is ESET Smart Security. Even if you choose to go with a different brand, DO NOT just stick with the Norton or MacAfee antivirus that will probably come pre-installed as a trial version on your new computer. To learn why, see my DMM post MacAfee Is For Muggles & Norton Is For Naifs.
Help With The Transition
Microsoft realizes this transition away from Windows XP is going to be difficult for most consumers, so they’ve prepared a special page with more information and how-to articles on their site.
Obviously, content files are pretty useless if they’re in a format that can’t be “read” by any program on your computer, but you may be able to import various file formats into a newer program so don’t delete anything from the old machine until the new machine is fully set up and you’re absolutely sure you won’t need the old files anymore.
If you absolutely cannot manage the upgrade at this time, see my follow-up post: Stopgaps For Those Who Can’t Afford To Update Windows XP
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