Even good things come to an end, and it’s really, really time to say goodbye to Windows XP. As good as it was — at least compared to the hated Vista — the sturdy operating system is not only obsolete, it is getting dangerous to run. That’s because Microsoft is getting ready to pull the plug on the last vestiges of support for Windows XP SP3 and that means no more security updates.
That won’t happen until April, but it’s worth mentioning now because you need to think about buying a new PC with a new OS, or updating your old warhorse with something newer.
Don’t think that Microsoft is merely trying to get you to buy a new computer and a new copy of Windows. Well, it is, of course, but the company points out in a blog post that when the earlier version of XP (Service Pack 2) went out of support, “its malware infection rate was 66 percent higher than Windows XP Service Pack 3,” the final version of XP.
Like me, you may not be a fan of Windows 8, but Tim Rains, the Microsoft security guy who wrote the post, notes that Windows XP SP2 now has an infection rate that is six times higher than the new operating system.
I don’t like to tell consumers to worry about every little threat that some security company tries to publicize, but there’s really no reason to run an operating system that isn’t supported by security updates. Hackers and spammers tend to go after soft targets, and when they notice vulnerability they’ll engineer a subtle shift inside their malware which will then be able to penetrate your defenses.
Security is like a game of leapfrog. Hackers attach with a new offense, security folks build a defense against it, and the attackers come back with yet another variety of malware. But after April, only one side will be playing, and you risk being a loser because of that.
Although I think you should give up on XP, there is an interim solution being offered by Avira, an anti-virus maker. It’s free product will support XP until April 2015. Avira doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other products, but the price is right and from my experience using it, it works quite well. (It’s possible that other vendors will do the same, but I haven’t heard from them yet. If I do, I’ll update this post.)
Nonetheless, it’s time to say goodbye to XP. For all its faults, Microsoft really has learned a thing or two in the last decade, Windows 7, for instance is a very solid product. What’s more, there’s quite a bit of good software around that simply won’t run on Windows XP.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.