Should you upgrade from XP before it becomes unsupported?

Support for Windows XP officially ends on 8th of April 2014. From that date onwards, Microsoft will not release any more updates or hot-fixes for XP.

Considering how little interest there was when Microsoft discontinued support for Windows 98 in July 2006, or for Windows 2000 in July 2010, it may seem surprising that ending support for XP, which is after all the 2001 version of Windows, should be so controversial.

The difference is that while Windows 98 and 2000 were considered obsolete technology when their support was ended, XP is still the second most widely used operating system in the world.

Even with the current rate of decline in Windows XP usage, around 3 in every 10 PCs will be still be running the operating system when Microsoft ends support. These aren’t just old PCs sitting in basements and attics either, businesses from sole traders up to FTSE and Dow Jones corporations are still using XP, most ATM machines run XP, and many electronic information centres in public places like airports run on XP as well.

But this article is about you, not them. Should you upgrade from XP to a newer version of Windows? Here are three good reasons for and against.

Reasons to upgrade.

1. XP is an old operating system designed to run on old technology.
Looking through some old ads from 2001, a mid-level PC had a single core 32-bit processor running around 533MHz, 256MB of RAM and a 16GB hard disk. XP was designed to run well on PCs with those specifications, and the minimum specifications were considerably lower. Most modern computers have multi-core 64-bit processors, GBs of RAM and hundreds of GB of hard disk space. XP wasn’t ever intended to use those levels of resources and is simply unable to take advantage of the advanced features in most modern PCs.

2. XP uses outdated software that poses a risk to you.
If you’re reading this on an XP machine using Internet Explorer, then the most recent version you are using is IE 8. If you were using Windows Vista or later, you’d be running IE 10 or 11. While that might not seem a major problem, older versions of programs are less secure than more modern versions and are considered the portal of choice for most hackers and computer viruses. Once XP support officially ends, this situation is only going to get worse, because the hackers and virus writers will continue to exploit holes in Windows XP but no new security updates will be released to counteract them.

3. Modern software requires a modern operating system.
There are an increasing number of software products that just won’t run properly on XP. Until recently, these problems were primarily found with home users wanting to use games on their PC, however business users are now increasingly finding that their XP machines are struggling to run the latest version of their business software. Due to the way XP uses computer memory, any software application that tries to access more than 1.3GB of memory will have major problems when run on an XP system. XP also struggles with very large programs and files compared to more modern versions of Windows.

Reasons to stick with XP.

1. Older software doesn’t work well on more modern operating systems.
In exactly the same way as the latest software requiring a modern OS, many older programs work best on the OS they were designed to run on. This is particularly true for software that is bespoke or has been customised for the individual business. If your most important software application only works properly in XP, upgrading to 7 or 8.1 just because Microsoft tell you that you should is madness.

2. Lower specifications struggle to run modern operating systems.
Because XP had such low specifications compared to modern hardware, there were a lot of ultra-basic PCs sold around 2007-2011 that shipped with XP. These machines were cheap but typically shipped with XP because they had low end processors and low amounts of RAM and storage which would have struggled to run the more modern operating systems. The majority of these could be upgraded to Windows 7 or 8.1 but without hardware upgrades to take them near to the recommended specification, their performance will not be good.

3. The cost of upgrading
When business people spend money on IT it should be as an investment in the business. Spending money to enable users to do new things, improve productivity, reduce costs, or provide benefits to the business or their customers are some good reasons to spend money on IT. Spending money to upgrade software – and possibly having to buy new hardware to run it – just because Microsoft aren’t going to provide updates for it after a certain date is really just throwing money away.

So should you upgrade or not?

As you can see above, the reasons to upgrade are down to what you currently use your PCs for and the reason not to upgrade are down to what you currently use your PCs for. To give you a definitive answer as to whether you should upgrade some or all of your equipment to Windows 7 or 8.1 then we’d need to know how you use your equipment and what you want to achieve from it.

Thanks for reading.

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