Windows XP users should take note: Official support for the Windows XP operating system ended on April 6, 2014. This affects all users of Windows XP, whether you use it for business or personal use. It's essential that you learn about the change and take steps to stay up-to-date.
First released in 2001, Windows XP has had a long support cycle. Its longevity can be attributed to its popularity with business and personal users who don't have a reason to upgrade or are dissatisfied with subsequent Windows versions. As with most operating systems, though, official support must come to an end.
It's important to understand what it means for Microsoft to end support for Windows XP. If you're using an unsupported operating system, you don't lose access to your computer or files, but your computer will no longer receive updates. These updates include fixes that help the operating system run smoothly, essential security updates and device drivers. You also can't receive any technical assistance for Windows XP.
The most immediate concern regarding the end of support for Windows XP is the end of security updates. When your computer is no longer up-to-date with the latest security fixes, you leave yourself open to exploits that hackers can use to take control of your PC, steal your data, or install malicious software. This is no small problem. Windows XP has been a popular target for viruses and exploits during its entire lifetime, but Microsoft support has been proactive in preventing, identifying, and eliminating these issues. The end of support means any future exploits will remain open.
Microsoft also warns users that programs running on Windows XP may become more unstable, because they will continue to receive updates intended for more recent Windows versions. You may find that a driver update for a device such as a printer or mouse renders the device useless.
Microsoft recommends users make the move away from Windows XP and install the latest Windows version, Windows 8.1. Most new PCs come with the latest version of Windows installed, so upgrading is an easy way to make sure you're secure. If you want to keep your old hardware, you can install Windows 8 software on a cleared hard drive. You should check with Microsoft support first to see if your current hardware meets the minimum requirements for Windows 8.
This can also be a good time to explore operating system options that exist outside of Microsoft's platform. Although many users rely on Windows for its compatibility with software needed for business, some may find that Apple's OS X, Google's Chrome OS or a free Linux distribution might meet their needs.
Microsoft is making it clear that April 6, 2014 is an important date for any user still working with Windows XP. If security is important to you and your business, it's essential that you keep this date in mind and prevent your computer from becoming totally unprotected.
(Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic / freedigitalphotos.net)
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