To Update or Not to Update

26 March 2014

With the official end of life for Windows XP quickly approaching and some people scrambling to migrate to a new system, it's interesting to look at the reasons for and against pushing through an upgrade. Upgrading to a new version of an operating system or a different operating system entirely can be a lot of work with migrating files and settings over. This is especially the case with XP, since there is no direct upgrade path from XP (which is 13 years old) to Windows 7 or 8 - or Linux/Mac for some.

Since upgrading to a new operating system is generally more of an ordeal than updating individual applications, there's those who consider hunkering down rather than moving on when end of life comes around. There are always reasons against it - it takes time to get everything on the new system set up, there may be a learning curve, it might be expensive. The issue is that while these are valid concerns, choosing to stay with an aging system that is out of support is dangerous. Security issues can be discovered in newer versions and will be fixed, but the fixes won't be pushed to the older version and as more come to light, the less powerful even the best antivirus is to actually keep things safe. In addition, as the system gets older and further out of life, technology moves on and more developers will stop making sure their things work on it.

As a software engineer, I generally use the latest and greatest of the available software offerings. I upgraded to Windows 8 before Windows 8 was publicly available, and I run Arch Linux which gets software updates multiple times a day. There are a number of motivations for this, but one of the biggest is that I work on the "behind the scenes" of software that most people don't experience. I get to see (and in some cases, work on) all the interesting software bugs and evolutions of pieces of software. Having that firsthand awareness, I push to keep everything I use up to date because I want to avoid the lingering issues and potential security flaws in the software I use.

So what's the case for XP? Windows XP is 13 years old. Already it isn't possible to upgrade its copy of Internet Explorer and the patches and bugfixes are over for consumers and most businesses come the end of life in April. As new security holes are found in newer versions of Windows, they will not be fixed on XP, though they will be published. Antivirus and security software is very limited in its capabilities as far as protecting against security flaws in Windows go and won't protect against everything, making XP a sitting duck. Further, the world of computing will move on and leave XP behind even if not everyone else does. New technologies will come out that XP simply will never have support for. While hunkering down on XP may seem like an okay plan, in the world of the Internet it simply isn't.

Where will you go? There are new versions of Windows to be had. Windows 8 is the latest (though to many, not the greatest), and Microsoft will give a $100 discount to anyone who upgrades from XP to a new Windows 8 system. Other options might be Linux or Mac. If you're still running XP and not feeling the pressure to upgrade, it's possible that you might even be able to replace it with an Android tablet or a Chromebook. No matter what you choose, take it from a software engineer: staying on Windows XP is a bad idea.

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