What to do about Windows XP
Updated 22 April 2014 with new items 9-11, enhanced item 1.
On April 8, 2014, Microsoft issued their last update to Windows XP. They will update the Microsoft Security Essentials anti-virus for another year, but a) traditional viruses are no longer the majority of security and malware problems, and b) Microsoft has been explicit that Microsoft Security Essentials was a minimal anti-virus system, anyway, and formally recommends getting a better anti-virus.
I do recommend migrating to Win7 or Win 8.1 Upgrade 1 if your finances and hardware will permit. A free utility from Microsoft downloadable from http://www.microsoft.com/windows/en-us/xp/transfer-your-data.aspx makes it easy to move your data to the new Windows, and http://www.laplink.com/ (not free, around $80) does that and lets you move compatible Windows XP programs, as well as data.
But, what to do, especially if your system is not powerful enough to run Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 and the new (free and required) Update 1 for 8.1? That's the subject of this post, for a well trusted website, ZDNet, has a checklist of things you can do. That inspires my post today; I'll summarize that checklist for you.
Here's the tl;dr:
0) Action is required, for the same source calls Unprotected XP 'a much greater risk than the Heartbleed bug.'
1) Use the Firefox browser (a free spamfree download from firefox.com ) with free extensions NoScript, Better Privacy, Self-Destructing Cookies, Ghostery, Web of Trust, AdBlock Edge, BugMeNot. (Firefox is the same on the Mac, Windows and Linux, BTW). Make Firefox the default browser, and avoid using Internet Explorer from now on following these instructions.
2) Make software updates automatic wherever possible.
4) Get a firewall; Windows Firewall at the very least. There are better free firewalls.
5) Go to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com and apply all updates except for the Bing Bar and any Language Pack for languages you don't read. If you are using Office 2003, go to http://LibreOffice.org and install it (free, spamfree) and let it choose to automatically open Office files, as Office 2003 also has security problems.
6) Make a new user in XP, but don't make it an adminstrator. Move all the data from your old (administrator) account to the new user. Use the new user for all web surfing.
7) Replace Microsoft Security Essentials with another antivirus. http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage is free among many others.
8) Avoid the Internet if at all possible when using XP.
10) Add the free Sandboxie to virtualize your web browsing sessions.
11) If you're tired of the update merry-go-round, choose a major distribution (version) of Linux.
Linux? It's no longer the complex bugaboo it once was, and it's free.
Mint Cinnamon, Fedora, and Xubuntu are my favorite versions for new users. You can install all on a garden variety USB Flashdrive from XP for free with a free and spamfree Windows program, and try them before you install. You can also install any Linux version side-by-side with XP without having to reinstall XP or its programs. Use Linux and Firefox for the web, and XP for your offline games.
Some Windows apps will work under Linux with Wine once properly configured, if there's a Windows program you must have; check the Wine Applications database for how well it runs. There's also a non-free improved version of Wine, CrossOver.
If you want to pass this on to a friend, the easy web address to use is http://j.mp/farewellxp .