Unless you’ve been living a Luddite existence in a cabin off
the grid in the Rockies somewhere, you’ve probably heard by now that Microsoft
will officially stop supporting Windows XP in just a few weeks on April 8. The
question that Windows XP users need to answer is how they intend to handle the
situation — particularly if they’re part of the crowd that isn’t fond of the new
Windows 8 / 8.1 OS.

At face value, the choice seems binary — either switch to
Windows 8 or keep using Windows XP. In fact, there are a few other alternatives
that lie between those two extremes. The best way to determine the best
solution for you is to address the prevailing issues and figure out which
option addresses most or all of them for you.

Let’s take the issues most often cited by Windows XP
loyalists and/or Windows 8 bashers one at a time.

I want my old
software to work

The most obvious answer for this one is to just continue
using Windows XP. Frankly, that’s just not a path I recommend, though.

If you have software that runs in Windows XP, your best bet
is going to be another version of Windows. Windows 7 and Windows 8 both have
features designed to enable legacy software to run in a compatibility mode or
virtual machine (VM) that emulates a Windows XP environment.

If that doesn’t work for some reason, my first stop would be
to talk with the software developer about modernizing the program to work with
an operating system from this decade. Another option would be to use a newer
version of Windows, and set up a Windows XP VM that you use
specifically for the applications that you can’t make work in a different
version of Windows.

Windows XP could be set up as a VM in a
different version of Windows, or in Mac OS X, or Linux. So, if you choose that
route, you actually have a number of options. Keep in mind, though, that you
need to have a legally licensed copy of the OS to run it in a VM, and you’ll
probably need the OS on a disc in order to install it. Finally, remember that
an OS in a VM is still an OS — it’s still vulnerable to attack and will expose
you to all of the same issues you’d have if you just kept running Windows XP.

I want to use my
existing hardware

Newer operating systems typically require more system
resources. There’s a good chance that your existing Windows XP hardware meets
the minimum system requirements for Windows 7 or Windows 8, but it won’t be
optimal and probably lacks key technologies — like TPM or UEFI — that Windows 8
uses.

The best option for making use of your existing hardware is
probably to install some version of Linux. Distributions of Linux generally require a fraction
of the processor, memory, hard drive space, or other resources that Windows
needs and will zip along just fine on your old XP hardware. Linux can seem
overwhelming to average users, but some variants — like Ubuntu Linux — are very
user-friendly and use a number of Windows-esque conventions (depending on the
desktop environment you choose), so the learning curve is shorter.

I don’t want to learn
a whole new interface

Well, that rules out Mac OS X and Linux for sure. It also
doesn’t bode well for Windows 8.

The best option if you want to upgrade but want an OS that
most closely matches what you’re used to in Windows XP is to upgrade to Windows
7.

If you’re going to upgrade to a new version of Windows,
though, just go to Windows 8. Yes, it has a dramatically different look and
feel with the Modern (Metro) UI and the Windows 8 Start screen. However, it can
easily be configured to boot straight to the desktop, and all of your traditional
Windows software runs in the desktop anyway. As long as you’re in the desktop
on Windows 8, there’s no difference from Windows 7 in either form or function,
but you get a number of performance, operational, and security improvements that
don’t exist in Windows 7.

You can still buy Windows 7 computers from retailers like
Best Buy, and there are copies of Windows 7 available on Amazon. Microsoft has
sweetened the pot for customers who are upgrading from Windows XP by offering a
$100 gift card for purchases from MicrosoftStore.com of select Windows 8.1 systems that cost $599 or more.

I want something
simple that just works

“It just works” is an operational principle of Apple. If you
want to drop Windows XP and you don’t want to move to Windows 7 or Windows 8,
Mac OS X is the way to go.

Mac OS X is a very nice operating system, and it has a number of
cool and unique features. It’s simple almost to a fault. There are many things
about Mac OS X that are quite intuitive if you don’t know any other way but seem counter-intuitive to someone who has used Windows for years. When I
first started using Mac OS X, I was frustrated on many occasions because I was
trying to do things the “Windows way.” Once you learn your way around, though,
Mac OS X is a powerful and capable OS.

Switching to Mac OS X will require purchasing new hardware.
Although Mac laptops and PCs run on the same Intel-based hardware as most
Windows machines, Mac OS X can only be installed and run on authentic,
genuine Apple hardware. The change in hardware may also require some of your
peripherals to be changed as well, but most keyboards, mice, webcams, and other
devices produced in the past few years will work with either Windows or Mac OS
X.

I don’t want to be
forced to upgrade every few years

You’re just out of luck.

To be fair, nobody is forcing anybody to do anything. The
reality, though, is that Microsoft’s pace for launching new operating systems
is relatively lethargic compared to its rivals. Apple has launched three new
major versions of Mac OS X just since Microsoft introduced Windows 7, and it
already stopped supporting the version that came out in 2009. It seems like
Ubuntu cranks out a new major version every six months or so, and it officially
stopped supporting the version that came out at the same time as Windows 7
after only two years.

Microsoft is going to stop supporting Windows XP, but it has
provided support for the OS for 13 years. It still supports Windows Vista and
will provide extended support for Windows 7 through 2020 — 11 years after its
initial release. You aren’t being “forced” to upgrade at all, but if you’re
looking for the OS that will provide you support for the longest period of time
without requiring you to upgrade, you should definitely stick with Windows.

I don’t want to spend
any money

This issue isn’t all that different from wanting to continue
using your existing hardware, but the options are more limited. Even if your
hardware is capable of running Windows 7 or Windows 8 with adequate
performance, upgrading to one of those operating systems requires money.

If you don’t want to have to spend any money on hardware or
software, install Linux. It’s an open source operating system and there are a
wide variety of variants to choose from — the vast majority of which can be
downloaded for free. It’s possible to run some Windows software from within
Linux using software like WINE, but you may need to replace some applications
with Linux-compatible equivalents. The good news is that most of the software
you use with Linux is also open source and freely available, so it’s virtually
guaranteed you can find something that will work for you without spending a
dime.

Again, you’re welcome to just keep using Windows XP, but you do so
at your own risk, and Microsoft won’t be there to throw you a rope when you start
drowning in exploits. Honestly, I recommend moving to Windows 8 and investing
the 15 minutes it takes to get used to the new conventions. However, if that’s just
not your thing, at least now you know what the options are. 

What do you plan to do when support for Windows XP officially expires? Let us know in the discussion thread below.