As you may have heard, today marks “the end” for Windows XP, arguably the single most popular version of Microsoft’s long-running operating system. (And by “popular” I mean “least hated.” This is Windows we’re talking about, after all.)
But what does that really mean? Just because Microsoft is pulling the plug, now you have to go buy a whole new computer? And is Windows 8 so incredibly bad that you’re better off buying a Mac?
First things first: Don’t panic. (It worked for Arthur Dent, it’ll work for you.) Instead, read on to learn three essential facts about Windows XP’s demise.
Microsoft is not flipping an “off” switch
Although “support” for Windows XP officially ends today, your computer will not suddenly seize up and refuse to operate. (It may do so for other reasons, but not because of Microsoft. Well, not technically.)
What this means is that Microsoft will no longer provide bug fixes, security patches, or other updates for XP. You don’t need these things to continue using your computer, though the longer you operate it without updates, the greater your risk of a virus slipping through.
To use a car analogy, it’s like Ford is no longer producing the model you own, nor offering parts or service for it. If something breaks down, well, you’re in a pickle.
You should consider upgrading
Even if your XP-powered computer is humming along just fine, and even if you have third-party security in the form of Norton AntiVirus or the like, there are many points in favor of upgrading–by which I mean buying a new PC, not merely installing a newer version of Windows. That may be possible, but it’s a huge hassle. And the $100 or so you’ll spend on that newer version of Windows is better put toward new hardware.
Indeed, there has never been a better time to buy a new PC. Even if you choose a lower-end model priced in the $300-400 range, it’s likely to run significantly faster than your current XP machine. And it’ll open the door to lots of newer technology, including USB 3.0 ports, solid-state hard drives, touchscreens, and so on.
A new PC will also provide vastly superior security right out of the box, to the point where you may not even need third-party software. And best of all, most systems running Windows 8.1 boot significantly faster than even the fastest XP machine.
Oh, and about that. Windows 8 may be stupid in some ways and a pain to learn, but the newly released Windows 8.1 Update lessens both the stupid and the learning curve. You’ll probably hate it at first, but I think you’ll soon adapt to it and probably even like it. (I know you’ll like the faster booting.)
You can still use that old PC
Of course, a new PC raises the question of what to do with the old one. My advice: Repurpose it. After you’ve copied all your critical data to the new system, wipe the hard drive and install Linux. (I offered a basic tutorial on this a couple weeks ago in “Revive an old PC with Zorin OS.”)
Here are just a few things you can do with that old, updated, and newly secure system:
- Turn it into a dedicated Minecraft station for the kids. (Search online and you’ll find any number of tutorials for running the game in Linux.)
- Turn it into a media server, a place to store all your music, videos, and photos. With the right software, you can easily stream all that media to your other PCs, your mobile devices, even your TV.
- Use it as a backup PC in case something goes wrong with the new one. If you use Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, you can easily keep all your bookmarks in sync, and with a cloud-storage service like Bitcasa or Dropbox, you’ll have anywhere access to your data.
- Turn it into a media center. XBMC is a popular open-source entertainment hub that lets you use a PC for watching movies, playing music, and so on, all from the comfort of a 10-foot, remote-controllable interface.
So, yeah, you’ve got lots of options for that old PC–including doing nothing at all. Because although Microsoft doesn’t love XP anymore, you can still keep the ol’ gal alive. Just make sure you keep her safe.
Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC World and Wired.