If you, or your workplace, are still using Windows XP, it’s time to move on.
Microsoft will officially end support for the 2001-vintage platform on April 8, 2014, just shy of a year from now.
That means no more service packs, no more updates and, most importantly, no more security patches.
Windows users generally receive periodic updates from Microsoft via its Windows Update service. These fixes often patch irregular behavior in the operating system.
More importantly, they plug vital flaws in the OS's security, preventing hackers and exploiters from running roughshod over private PCs. In just over a year, this service will cease for Windows XP, marking the effective end of the software's 13-year run.
XP users are, of course, welcome to continue using their OS of choice after April 2014, but this behavior entails a number of risks.
Hackers are constantly coming up with new methods of compromising users' systems, and a lack of security updates from Microsoft will only make it easier to do so. There may be independent XP from the security community, but tech-savvy users generally migrated away from Windows XP (at least as their primary system) a long time ago.
Market research indicates that Windows XP still accounts for approximately one-third of all desktop operating systems, despite the fact that three subsequent Windows systems have ostensibly "replaced" it: Vista, 7 and 8.
The easiest way to avoid security vulnerabilities after XP's updates slip quietly into the night will be to upgrade to a newer version of Windows. Unfortunately, the system requirements on newer versions of Windows are considerably higher than those for XP. Vista and Windows 8 in particular are notorious resource hogs. [See also: Why You Shouldn't Upgrade to Windows 8 Yet]
Even if you choose not to update, there are still a number of ways to protect yourself from security vulnerabilities. Be sure to stay current with Windows Updates until April 2014, and run regular anti-virus and malware scans after that. Stay away from suspicious websites and email attachments. Even on older systems, a judicious application of common sense will prevent the vast majority of system exploits.
For business users and others with lots of sensitive data, general caution and hoping for the best is probably not the best strategy. It may be time to invest in a new OS. If your desktop can't run it, then it's time to save up for a new computer. You've got a year.