Retiring Windows XP

A number of readers have written me recently to ask about Windows XP and its impending retirement. The same questions occurred when Microsoft decided to retire Windows 98 and many of the same conditions remain true. Whether you have a good personal reason to switch or not depends on what you’re doing with your computers. I imagine a lot of people are still running Windows XP because it continues to meet their needs. After all, one of the older versions of Office probably works fine for most home users (truth be told, I don’t use the vast majority of the new features in Office myself). Your games will continue to run, just as they always have. If the system is meeting your personal needs, there probably isn’t a good reason to upgrade it from a personal perspective.

That said, mainstream support for Windows XP ended April 14, 2009 and extended support will end on April 8, 2014. From a management perspective, Windows XP is becoming a liability in some situations. You’re already not getting any sort of bug updates for Windows XP.  When extended (paid) support ends, you won’t get any security fixes either. That could be a problem if your systems are attached to the Internet and someone finds a way to exploit the security problems in Windows XP (and believe me, they will). Let’s just say you want to have a newer OS in place before the support situation gets too bad if you’re planning to remain connected to the Internet.

Nothing says that you ever have to upgrade if you don’t want to. I still run a copy of Windows 98 for some older applications I have and love. That system has no connections to anything else—it’s a standalone system and there is no chance whatsoever of contamination from it. I don’t care about upgrades because I’m not running any new software on it. Basically, it’s a working museum piece. So, if you’re willing to use these older operating systems in a safe environment—go for it, but I wouldn’t recommend continuing to use Windows XP for much longer on a system connected to the Internet—time for an upgrade.

The other problem you’ll eventually encounter is hardware-related. I currently have three machine’s worth of spare parts for my Windows 98 museum piece. As long as I have spare parts, I can continue running that system and enjoying my old software on it, but there is going to come a time when the spares run out. At that point, using a new part in the old system doesn’t make sense. For one thing, the new part may not run at all because I won’t have drivers for it. In fact, the old motherboard may not even provide connectors for it. So, you may eventually have a need to upgrade your system simply because you no longer have working parts for the old one.

After I share my views on Windows XP, the next question that readers are asking is which operating system I recommend as an upgrade. My personal preference now is Windows 7 because it seems to be stable and offers improved security over Windows XP, without some of the issues presented by Windows Vista. I haven’t worked enough yet with Windows 8 to recommend it, but I feel that the new Metro Interface is likely to cause problems for people who have worked with Windows XP for a long time. The Windows 7 interface changes will be enough of a shock.

For me, the bottom line is that you’ll have to retire Windows XP eventually. Whether you retire it now or wait until later is up to you, but eventually you won’t have the hardware required to make the operating system perform well anymore. I ran into this problem at one point with Windows 3.1 and had to stop supporting any books that relied on that operating system. (As an interesting side note, I do maintain a DOS system and haven’t encountered any hardware so far that won’t run the ancient operating system.) I imagine that my Windows 98 museum piece will eventually fail too, never to rise again. If you truly enjoy using Windows XP, you shouldn’t let Microsoft dictate an upgrade to you. Then again, you have to consider the risks and eventual loss of ability to run the operating system. Let me know your thoughts about running museum piece systems at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.