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How to Migrate from Windows XP

By , Fahmida Y. Rashid - Source: Tom's Guide US | B 21 comments

Credit: Microsoft/Public domainCredit: Microsoft/Public domain

April 8, 2014. That's the day when, after more than 13 years, Microsoft officially ends support for Windows XP. Like millions of others around the world, you may be perfectly happy with your XP system, but it's now time to move on to either Windows 7 or Windows 8. Here's how.

After April 8, Microsoft will no longer release any patches or updates for XP, even if critical bugs are found. The only exceptions will be for large corporate customers willing to pay $200 per computer for a year's extension of "premier" support for hundreds, or thousands, of machines.

Cyberattackers will be able to target vulnerabilities in Windows XP without fear the flaws will be patched, and there won't be anything users can do to protect themselves besides upgrading to a newer operating system.

Experts worry there will be a jump in the number of attacks targeting XP users come April, especially after new flaws in XP are inadvertently revealed by related fixes to Windows Vista, 7 and 8.

Since you're going to have to migrate anyway, you might as well as move toward a XP-free future now, instead of waiting for attackers to wreak havoc with your digital life.

MORE: 5 Free PC Security Programs Worth Downloading

Who's still using Windows XP?

Approximately 15 percent of enterprise users still have Windows XP running on their networks, down from about 35 percent at the beginning of 2013, according to the latest statistics from cloud-security firm Qualys of Redwood Shores, Calif. The company estimates less than 7 percent of enterprise users will still be running XP in April.

The numbers are higher among individual and small business users. About 22 percent of those users worldwide will still be running XP by April, depending on how many people got new computers over the holidays to replace aging machines, Qualys' chief technology officer, Wolfgang Kandek, told Tom's Guide. (Windows XP usage is highest in some middle-income countries with lax software-piracy enforcement, such as China, where as of November 2013 it was still the most common operating system.)

Many Windows XP holdouts will be users who may not even be aware that Microsoft's support is going to expire, Kandek said. Others will be those who don't see any reason to give up on XP. Windows XP machines will continue chugging along after Microsoft ends support, and users may not want to bother upgrading when everything works well.

Some users may be stuck because of custom, crucial applications that work only on XP and would be too costly or difficult to modify for a newer operating systems. There are some options for this group — see below — but the clock is ticking for XP overall.

Pick an operating system

Before kicking off the migration process, it's important to decide whether to move to Windows 7 or to Windows 8.

Windows 7 has the advantages of using the familiar Windows interface and being well entrenched in the marketplace. It may be a bit cheaper to buy a full installation copy of Windows 7 Home Premium (about $90) than an upgrade copy of Windows 8 ($120), if you shop around.

However, Windows 7 is already more than 4 years old. Mainstream support — i.e., free telephone or online support — for Windows 7 will end in January 2015, although extended support, which includes security fixes, continues until 2020.

Windows 8 — technically Windows 8.1 when the latest updates are added — will require a bit of tweaking for many applications, because the user interface has substantially changed from the "classic" Windows look. But mainstream support for Windows 8 won't end until 2018, and extended support will go until 2023.

(It's probably pointless to upgrade to the little-loved Windows Vista, for which mainstream support has already ended. Extended support ends for Vista in April 2017.)

One way to decide between Windows 7 and Windows 8 is to list all of the applications installed on your XP machine or machines, and figure out which operating system supports more of them.

MORE: Are Windows 8.1's Security Improvements Worth the Upgrade?

Check the hardware for Windows 8 capability

Windows XP is 12 years old, and many computers running it will be unable to handle either Windows 7 or Windows 8.

Microsoft offers a Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant  to help users figure out whether their hardware can support Windows 8. (Microsoft no longer offers the similar Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, but the minimum hardware requirements for Windows 7 and Windows 8 are nearly identical.)

Instead of wrangling with the hardware requirements, it may be simpler to buy a newer computer with either Windows 7 or 8 pre-installed. Buying a new machine is the easiest way to migrate, since it would be just a matter of copying all the personal data files from the older machine over to the new one.

When migrating, it's important to take a look at the configuration and account privileges on the new operating system to make sure the settings are secure, said Andrew Avanessian, vice president of professional services at Avecto, a computer-security firm in Manchester, England.

Many XP owners used administrator accounts as their primary accounts, which exposed their systems to various privilege-escalation attacks. There is no need to repeat the same mistake on the newer systems, as regular day-to-day user accounts should have limited rather than administrator privileges.

Most of the applications installed on XP machines, such as Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader and Microsoft Office, have newer versions available. It's important to install the latest versions of the applications instead of trying to go back to older versions, Avanessian said.

Many popular software applications now have their own security defense technologies to withstand attacks, so take advantage of them.

Upgrading an old machine to newer versions of Windows

If the hardware is good enough to support Windows 7 or 8, you'll still have to do a "clean" installation that completely overwrites the hard drive. There is no option to "upgrade" the operating system from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8 in a way that preserves all your personal files, applications and settings.

Before you begin, back up all images, videos and personal documents to an external storage drive, and make sure you have your application installation disks or files plus any necessary product keys.

After the new OS is up and running, your files have been copied over and your applications have been reinstalled, the next step is to update all the software packages to the latest versions, when affordable.

For many Internet-related applications, such as Web browsers, media players or Adobe Reader, the upgrades will be free; for Microsoft Office or Adobe creative applications such as Photoshop, be ready to pay a few hundred dollars for upgrades, although free alternative software such as LibreOffice, Photoscape or the GIMP is a quick Web search away.

This is also a good time to check user account privileges and other configuration settings to make sure the system is secure. There is no need to bring insecure habits onto the new system.

What if you still need Windows XP?

You may have a good reason for sticking with XP beyond "It works fine, so why bother?" For example, there may be a custom application that won't work on newer versions of Windows.

Microsoft included a virtualization feature called Windows XP Mode in Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate, which lets users install and run applications as if they were on a native XP machine. (You can still download Windows XP Mode software directly from Microsoft.)

Windows XP Mode isn't available for Windows 7 Home Edition, or for any version of Windows 8, but as long as you have a Windows XP installation disk and a valid user license, then third-party virtualization software such as Citrix XenDesktop or Virtualbox can accomplish the same task.

Virtualization, Kandek said, gives users the security benefits — the secure Windows kernel, regular patches, security mitigation technologies such as address space layout randomization (ASLR), data execution prevention (DEP) and software sandboxing — of a newer operating system while still allowing users to run applications in an XP environment.

When users need to use the custom application, they can switch to the XP virtual machine for that task only. It's the best of both worlds.

Each Windows XP user needs to seriously consider whether it really makes sense to keep running XP after Microsoft discontinues support. The security situation is expected to deteriorate after April 8, and a full migration can take up to six months, depending on the size of the organization.

The time for planning is past, and it is time to act now.

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This thread is closed for comments
  • 1 Hide
    SpottedMarley , January 2, 2014 5:16 AM
    "Like millions of others around the world, you may be perfectly happy with your XP system, but it's now time to move on to ..." a non-Microsoft world. Here's how:

  • 3 Hide
    Dominic Giallombardo , January 2, 2014 6:03 AM
    Just get a good firewall and antivirus. But if you feel the need to upgrade, go with Windows 7. Windows 8 is a nightmare for older folks and people who aren't computer savvy.
  • 2 Hide
    barechaser , January 2, 2014 6:09 AM
    My hardware isn't going to work in 7 for all my printers scanners and other things and 8 won't install because of the cpu ....
  • Display all 21 comments.
  • 3 Hide
    venkyn , January 2, 2014 6:20 AM
  • 2 Hide
    truthtrance , January 2, 2014 6:31 AM
    I've upgraded my desktop to Linux Mint. Took half an hour. It works and has a very impressive and large selection of free software. Next I tackle my old notebook. I cannot afford to buy new hardware to run a problematic Microsoft operating system anymore. To Microsoft I say "Bye, bye!"
  • 3 Hide
    mbg1708 , January 2, 2014 6:35 AM
    Older PCs may not have the horsepower for Win7 or Win8. Pick a reliable Linux distribution (Ubuntu, Mint....Fedora/XFCE is my favorite) and use Firefox and an office suite..........and your old machine will have years more life in it......and you probably won't miss Microsoft after a week or two!
  • -1 Hide
    Fred Flintsone , January 2, 2014 6:51 AM
    Pulling the plug on best platform MS ever made. also why I switched to Mac, stay away from MS products unless you must, all marketing that bunch. XP remains better than all its successors combined. It actually works
  • 2 Hide
    fang_zamillion , January 2, 2014 3:36 PM
    I agree with all the others who are saying it's time to move on to Linux and away from Microsoft.
  • 2 Hide
    danerda , January 2, 2014 5:50 PM
    hi, well microsoft you want me to move on, ok i did straight to ubuntu linux, had it installed and running in less than hour, it does everything that xp did but for FREE and is easier to use than xp. bye bye microsoft.
  • -1 Hide
    cbordeman , January 5, 2014 1:33 AM
    A lot of Linux morons around here. There's a reason after 20+ years ALL Linux distros combined still barely register 1% of the desktop/laptop market: Linux SUCKS on the desktop. You can claim it's easier or more stable or runs all the software you need, but if that were true, why does *everyone* who tries it switch back to Windows or Mac after a short time?

    The reason is the software on Linux isn't nearly as available, polished, or useful as Windows or Mac software, the drivers are awful by comparison, and the system is just far too complicated for the average person (requiring endless googling and command line commands to fix the frequent problems).
  • 0 Hide
    danerda , January 5, 2014 9:46 PM
    gee cbordeman, have you ACTUALY TRIED UBUNTU?, i suspect not, i have ACTUALY TRIED windows 8 and i found it very user unfriendly whereas ubuntu is user friendly, i had no driver issues and it runs like a dream and its free and who are you to call linux users MORONS we are not morons, the fact that we use linux proves it.
  • -6 Hide
    STCAlliance , January 15, 2014 4:26 PM
    News flash. Get a mac.
  • 1 Hide
    Avus , April 8, 2014 8:55 AM
    News flash. Get a mac.

    This is a stupid recommendation. Do you really think Mac OS will not obsolete? I still remember how much hassle when people migrate/upgrade from PowerPC to Intel Mac. It was 100x worse than XPocalypse.
  • -4 Hide
    roger smith , April 8, 2014 9:51 AM
    Windows : Unstable, Unsecure, Massive Hardware/Software Support, powerful and not for novice
    OSX : Stable, Secure, Small Hardware/Software Support, light computing and video editing
    Linux/Unix Distros : Stable, Secure, Microscopic Hardware/Software Support, not for novice
    Chrome : Hopes and Dreams for a webtop replacement
    SteamOS : Hopes and Dreams for a game focused os
  • -3 Hide
    lp231 , April 8, 2014 10:21 AM
    For those who say to use linux, do you just think about yourselves or have you actually thought about, is linux a easy to use OS for the masses? I've tried a few linux distros before and the amount of time to get a simple job done is beyond ridiculous. By the time a linux novice has managed to learn 1 linux feature, they will probably be a expert in using Windows or OSX.

    Those who say avoid Windows 8, well have you actually try it out or are you just repeating what those Windows 8 bashers are saying? Windows 8 isn't not a difficult to OS, if you sit down and use a bit of time to learn it. How can someone who is able to operate their smartphone, tablet, automatically become unfamiliar on how to use Windows 8? Aren't all of them similar to one another? All them them have icons on a home screen, you open a app by tapping the screen or click on it. If anyone can use a smartphone or tablet (ipad,galaxy tab, transformer, etc) then Windows 8 won't be that difficult to use.
  • 1 Hide
    Darkk , April 8, 2014 11:31 AM
    I felt a great disturbance as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.
  • 1 Hide
    jhansonxi , April 8, 2014 11:38 AM
    XP remains better than all its successors combined. It actually works

    Not initially. It was garbage until SP1. Win2K was preferred by many until then.
  • 0 Hide
    bmwman91 , April 8, 2014 2:32 PM
    XP remains better than all its successors combined. It actually works

    Not initially. It was garbage until SP1. Win2K was preferred by many until then.

    Ha, I remember those days! I was adamant about sticking with Win2k until late 2003 or so. SP1 for XP was probably the configuration it should have shipped with in the first place. -

    Should XP users switch to Linux? Maybe, maybe not. I have made the switch to Mint and Ubuntu a number of times over the years. Inevitably, I always ended up going back to Windows 7, and more recently Windows 8. Hardware support for any laptop that is more than 4 years old with a discrete GPU is atrocious. A T41p I used to own never performed as well with Linux largely due to not having any proper video drivers. Same deal with my T60p and T61p. For whatever reason, Linux wouldn't work properly with the SATA controller in the T61p either and my SSD was slower than the 5400RPM HDD it replaced. Then again, most laptops don't have dedicated graphics and so users of those don't have an expectation of graphical performance, so they would probably be fine with Linux. Anyway, if the argument is that people coming from XP should just give Linux a chance and take a few days to learn it, then the exact same argument applies to Win8.1. I'll say right now that both the T60p and T61p., which are both aging machines, had much better out-of-the-box hardware support with Win8 than the last release of Mint and Ubuntu. The Linux distros worked well enough, and it is damn impressive what something with a $0 price can do, but it isn't on-par with a proprietary OS (IMO of course).
  • 1 Hide
    rwinches , April 9, 2014 2:31 PM
    Really maybe if Linux grows up and loses the erector set style it brought over from UNIX and decides to become standards based like Windows where a certification means the App will install and run without intervention/tweaking required and with actual Help files that go beyond function description, then yes maybe a significant shift will occur.
  • 0 Hide
    dpatkat , May 17, 2014 12:40 PM
    The advice given to me says the software and hardware are tools.
    So I have to answer a few questions:
    1. Which of these tools do what I need?
    2. Do I already have some I can reuse?
    3. Financially, can I afford to buy new?
    4. Do I have the skills to do it myself?

    If I had the money, my wishlist would include that little round $3000 Mac Pro, the Samsung 12.2 tablet, a 3d digitizer and printer, a color printer capable of large format printing, a large format scanner, the RED digital movie camera, and a personal internet accessible at lightning speed anywhere on planet earth.

    Alas, my budget and rusty tinkering skills have left me with this decision:
    1. move all my data to a backup.
    2. install clean drive.
    3. do the windows 7 ISO.
    4. Test to re-install any programs that might still work (GIMP, Scribus, Chrome and Firefox, my Chrome apps like Pixlr Express and Editoretc.: new MS Word because i like it, AVG because it works nicely, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro which I plan to buy after 15 day use ends, Sketchup 2014, netgear A6200, And for now Verizon Navigator if it works.).
    5. my trusty android phone (google drive, convert everything, sketchbook pro, pixlr express, hanla outliner, etc, google play, google keep)
    6. put my old xp drive in another pc, make sure its healthy, but always offline for reference, no internet.
    7. And my second ancient desktop is where i occasionally tinker with using other OS.
    8. Save for that Mac Pro and the Samsung 12.2.
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