How to keep using XP after support ends

Staying with Windows XP is possible, but it can be risky if you don’t take precautions. If you decide you want to stick with XP, follow these tips to protect yourself against viruses and other threats.

No More Updates

As of now, there won’t be any more updates to Windows XP. It’s the “XPocalypse“, the end of the operating system that’s beloved by users worldwide, and Microsoft only offers one solution: migrating to Windows 8.1. Migration, however, comes with drawbacks: you have to pay, you have to learn how to use a new system, and there are apps that’ll no longer work.

When the door’s been closed on upgrades and security patches, Windows XP presents a progressively greater risk to your system. Fortunately, there’s a lot that you, the XP user, can do to protect Windows against the dangers associated with a lack of support, namely viruses and attacks.

Percentage of infected computers: XP is more vulnerable

Percentage of infected computers: XP is more vulnerable (Source: Microsoft)

If you want to keep using Windows XP, you need to be willing to fix some things and fill some holes. In return, you’ll see that it’s not as hard as you may think to continue using your favorite operating system.

Check if you have the latest big update from XP

Before doing anything, you should look at which version of Windows XP you’re running. The quickest way to do this is to go to Start> Run and type winver. Press the Enter key, and you’ll see a box with the version of Windows XP, just after Version 5.1.

This version of XP already has the proper Service Packs

This XP doesn’t need the Service Pack: it has SP3 properly installed

The latest version is Service Pack 3, which includes the last major package of updates that Microsoft released for XP. If something different appears, like Service Pack 1 or Service Pack 2, you need to update your system to avoid some of the worst viruses.

SP 2 for XP is more infected than SP 3

Need a reason to upgrade? XP SP2 is infected more than XP SP3 (Source: Computerworld)

Install the latest available updates

Although Microsoft will no longer release new updates for XP, you can still download the old ones via Windows Update. Install all available updates through the control panel updates, including Service Packs 1, 2 and 3.

Download old updates from the Microsoft website

You can still download the old XP updates from the Microsoft website

Another way to install all updates for Windows XP is via WSUS, a tool that can create an update package which can be used offline. Version 8.9 is the latest that’s compatible with XP; simply select your operating system, choose the language and click Start.

WSUS 8.9 update

Version 8.9 from WSUS downloads and packages the XP updates

In my opinion, WSUS is the safer option, because it lets you keep your XP offline so that there’s no possibility of intrusions while you’re upgrading. I also recommend that you check the .NET Framework box, an essential software to ensure that programs run properly.

Update Internet Explorer and add an alternative browser

Windows XP is distributed with Internet Explorer 6, a browser that’s now unsafe and incompatible with most current web pages. To find out which version of IE you’re using, go to the Help> About menu in the browser. If you see what’s below, you’ve got the dreaded Internet Explorer 6.

Internet Explorer 6

The unmistakable Internet Explorer 6 in all its splendor

If you’re using IE 6.0, update immediately to Internet Explorer 8, the latest version that’s available for XP, which is far more secure and supports most websites (you can download it here). Unfortunately, there’s no IE9 for XP, and we don’t know of any way to run it on Windows XP.

IE 8

IE8 is the latest version of Internet Explorer for Windows XP– there is no IE9 for XP.

At the same time, you can download an alternative browser. There are lots to choose from, but Chrome, Firefox and Opera are the three main alternatives. They are fast and efficient, are good at avoiding malware, and provide a much smoother and enjoyable browsing experience.

Uninstall unnecessary and obsolete programs

One way to reduce vulnerabilities and lighten the load on Windows is to remove programs that you no longer use or that could pose an unacceptable risk to the safety of your computer. To remove applications quickly, use CCleaner or Revo Uninstaller.

Revo uninstaller

Revo Uninstaller is a very powerful uninstaller that’s compatible with Windows XP

You can also disable startup processes and services you don’t use: the lower the number of programs that load up and stay in memory, the fewer the weak points in the operating system. Just remember that you should know everything you’re running.

Install a program updater

Besides keeping the system updated, you must ensure that your applications are up to date. A program with an old version may have defects and security problems, becoming a gateway for viruses.

There are utilities that detect and download new versions of your apps. One of the star features of Softonic for Windows is precisely that: updating programs that are obsolete. You can get this with a quick scan of your system and a comparison with the Softonic database.

Softonic for Windows

Softonic for Windows detects earlier versions and helps you update – even in XP

Softonic for Windows works as an application manager so that in addition to notifying and helping you update your software, it lets you install new programs which are compatible with Windows XP ( which I’m sure will keep appearing for at least the next five years).

Install an antivirus that’s compatible with Windows XP

Microsoft Security Essentials, the official Microsoft antivirus, will stop receiving new updates for XP on July 14, 2015. From that moment on, the last pillar of Microsoft security will fall apart.

Still, there’s no need to worry: most antiviruses will be compatible with Windows XP for years. In our big antivirus comparison of 2014, we analyzed 15 free and paid antiviruses. The best free antivirus proved to be AVG, Avira and QIHOO 360.

Softonic's antivirus comparison 2014

Antivirus comparison notes from late 2013, all of which are compatible with XP

You need to choose an antivirus that’s effective, but also lightweight. Another good option if you’re short on memory resources is to download a portable antivirus, which doesn’t require installation and only runs when you want to disinfect your PC. I took a classic antivirus off a friend’s old laptop with XP and left her with Avira PC Cleaner on the desktop.

Install a firewall that’s easy to use

To use Windows XP with confidence, you not only have to know what’s running when you start the PC, but also monitor which programs send or receive data from the network. Why? Because some of them may violate your privacy, or even worse, download viruses.

Comodo Firewall protects your computer

The excellent free firewall Comodo Firewall is compatible with Windows XP

The two firewalls I usually recommend are the old but reliable Sygate Personal Firewall, which works great on XP, and Comodo Firewall, which is newer than Sygate and has a more elegant and intuitive design. Both are equally effective.

Stop using Outlook Express / Live Mail

If you’re a fan of getting mail the old fashioned way, then you need to think about leaving Outlook Express (OE) and Live Mail as soon as possible. These are obsolete apps where countless virus attachments find their way in, regardless of whether you have an antivirus or not.

Among the e-mail clients available for Windows XP, Mozilla Thunderbird is an acceptable desktop alternative, but the project has seen little activity lately. It’s best if you use webmail like Gmail or Outlook.com.

Outlook.com

In the Outlook.com options, you can add POP or IMAP accounts

Both options let you download POP3 mail to your inbox so that you can continue to receive and send messages from your old email accounts, with the added benefit of junk mail filters that work much better than any Windows program.

Create your own back up plan

If you’ve chosen to continue using Windows XP, you’ve chosen a more risky and exciting computing life. If you have appreciation for your data, you should start doing backups regularly so that if something goes wrong – for example, the Cryptolocker virus sneaks into your computer – you can recover your files.

Make sure to make backups of your files

The best solution? Create your own “recipe backups” using free programs according to your needs, such as Dropbox (documents), Intel Anti-theft (passwords), Cobian Backup, and Comodo Time Machine. Another great option for a full backup? Macrium Reflect. In any case, merging several solutions offers maximum safety and flexibility.

Don’t discredit updating or using a virtual machine

As you can see, staying with XP without suffering from viruses is possible, but operating systems and applications evolve too. There will come a day when you can no longer enjoy your favorite programs and games on XP, and although that day might be far away, you need to come to terms with the idea as soon as you can.

The number of Windows XP users is stable

The number of Windows XP users is stable (Source: Computerworld)

If you have no choice but to stick with XP to run some programs, don’t forget that there’s an option to install XP on a virtual machine, a PC that runs on a window inside your PC. You can do it through VirtualBox or VMPlayer, both of which are free and fully compatible with XP.

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