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Tech Talk: Don’t ditch XP; just keep it safe

POSTED: February 22, 2014 12:17 a.m.

The last time we spoke, I warned you of the demise of Windows XP and the upcoming end of its support from Microsoft this coming April. I’ve since gotten many emails and questions from concerned clients and readers who were confused as to what they should do. So let’s address that.

Windows XP is still installed on a massive amount of computers worldwide, holding an incredible almost 30 percent of the market share. Keep in mind this is for an operating system that is more than 12 years old. Prior to XP, Windows OS’s lasted but a few years each.

Contemporary systems include XP (2001) which is second only to Windows 7 (2009), with about 47 percent of the market share. Win 8 (2012) has approximately 11 percent and Vista (2007) holds a mere 4 percent, with Apple, Linux and Android sharing the final 8 percent.

I suggest you try Win 7 either on your old system or on a new one. I’d pass altogether on Win 8. In fact my research tells me that Microsoft may be releasing their Windows 9 a full year earlier than originally planned due to the rampant unpopularity of Win 8. No surprise for me there.

So if you have a Windows XP computer, what should you do? The short answer is to replace your relic with a more modern system as I stated in my last column. Your XP system will not stop running April 9; it just won’t be as secure. It will function as it did before. It’ll just be without the built-in protection it previously had.

Along with XP, Microsoft will cease support for Internet Explorer running under that operating system. The easy way out of that conundrum, is simply to switch to browsers like Chrome, Firefox or Opera, all better than IE anyway. Google says it will support Chrome for Windows XP until April 2015.

Microsoft will also stop supporting and updating Microsoft Security Essentials (an XP utility), which I’ve never put much faith in anyway.

With no new updates or patches for XP, hackers will have an easier time gaining access to your unsecured system.

But know that you don’t have to get a new computer. You can put a newer OS on your older machine or you can keep XP. That’s right, I said keep it. But should you choose that option you must -- and I can’t stress this enough, you must -- invoke a strong line of defense on your computer.

A free anti-virus does not a strong line of defense make. If you want to keep using XP, go out and buy a comprehensive Internet security suite, not just a dedicated anti-virus program. I would add a program like Malwarebytes Pro or be sure your suite has an incorporated utility to thwart an attack.

There are two types of defenses for this: active and passive. The active defense runs in the background and stops something from gaining entry to your system, like a bouncer at a club. The passive method runs on a schedule or on demand. It scans for infections when you tell it to. For malware you can use both.

Your computer can only use one anti-virus utility though, so keep that in mind. Two is not better for an AV tool.

Most Internet security suites will let you install additional malware protection, although a few, like McAfee, suggest you uninstall those prior to installing their package. I’ve found McAfee to be a bully with other apps. Like the playground bully, it just doesn’t play well with everyone there.

Scan your computer daily if you use the Internet daily. If you set it to run a scan at midnight, your computer needs to be on. Some programs have an option in its settings to run a scan at the next boot if the one scheduled is missed.

So if you have your utility set to run at midnight but turn off your computer at 11 p.m., a scan may run when you reboot your computer the following morning. The box that offers this option has to be checked for that to happen.

Just as important, is to secure your logons with strong and different passwords. Don’t use your email logons for your banking. If the former gets hacked, then so does the latter. Use alphanumeric words of 8-10 characters, with an upper case and symbol for strength.

If stores like Target and Neiman Marcus got hacked, so can you. Just be careful.

That said, you can only do your best and sometimes still that’s just not good enough. But you have to put forth the effort. Even with the best programs and latest updates, you may fall through the cracks and get infected anyway. It happens.

But don’t think you have to go spend money on a new computer. It may prove to be your best option, but there are alternatives. Your aging computer may be fine with old XP if you increase system’s security as I’ve stated.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.


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