Time is running out: There's only about two weeks left before Microsoft on April 8 officially ceases support for Windows XP, and security updates stop coming to plug the many holes identified on an almost continuous basis.
The risks are real -- it's not just bluster from the software giant encouraging people to upgrade to a pricier operating system. Anti-virus software vendor Avast recently said in a blog post that "XP users are 6 times more likely to get attacked than Windows 7 users." Also: "Internet Explorer on Windows XP poses an even larger threat."
And that's at the moment, while official Microsoft support remains and the company issues security updates. But when XP is left without patches for newly identified exploits, the gulf will surely widen. Said Avast: "The vulnerable OS will be an easy target for hackers and be seen as a gateway to infect other non-XP operating systems."
Microsoft has been warning about this kind of security crisis for at least a year, and that's one reason the company is trying to encourage XP users to move to a newer, more secure OS. The company's latest tactic? How does $100 off a new Windows 8 computer sound?
If you have waited all this time -- through the release of both Windows 7 and Windows 8 -- and still have not upgraded, a $100 discount might not be especially persuasive. Still, now through June 15 you can take advantage of an upgrade offer that includes a $100 discount, 90 days of free technical support and a free data transfer service from your old PC to your new PC. (Though to be fair, Microsoft usually includes both the support and a Laplink data transfer cable, so all you're really getting is the $100 off.)
The offer is good toward the purchase of two dozen computers, ranging from all-in-ones to laptops to the new Surface 2 Pro tablet. The least expensive PC is an Acer Aspire V5 laptop for $599 (or $499 after the discount).
What if you stubbornly want to hang onto your existing Windows XP machine? Well, there are steps you can take to improve its security. Be sure that you're sunning up-to-date antivirus protection, for example.
And this is extremely important: Configure the PC to run as a standard user (called a Limited User on Windows XP), not as an administrator account. That single change can go an enormous distance toward preventing malware from being able to do any damage to your computer. You can also simply keep the PC off the Internet as much as possible. Disconnect it from the Internet when you aren't actively using it and need online services.