There should be an image here!Q: I’m still using Windows XP and keep hearing about it no longer being available and no longer being supported by Microsoft updates? Is it time for me to stop using Windows XP? — Marcus

A: Despite the overwhelming (albeit quiet) success of Windows 7 since its launch last year, globally Windows XP is still the dominant Microsoft operating system in use today.

According to NetMarketshare, 62% of the Internet connected computers in the world are running Windows XP, while 15% are running Windows Vista and 15% are running Windows 7 (Mac OS computers account for roughly 5%).

In January, the numbers were 66% XP, 17.5% Vista & 7.5% Windows 7, so the slow migration from both XP & Vista is apparent.

A couple of reasons that Windows XP is still the dominant operating system include global software piracy and business users that are putting off the expense and complications of switching operating systems.

Microsoft officially stopped selling the retail version of Windows XP in June of 2008, but allowed OEMs (computer manufacturers) to continue installing XP on systems as the business community demanded.

The most recent announcement you may have heard was signaling the end of OEMs pre-installing Windows XP on new netbook computers (ending October 22nd).

In July, Microsoft announced that it would no longer offer updates to those running Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (upgrading to Service Pack 3 continues the updates, however).

The currently published cutoff date for support of any kind for Windows XP users is April of 2014 (as long as you have the latest Service Pack installed).

Further, Microsoft offers what are called ‘downgrade rights’ for business users that buy a new Windows 7 (Professional or Ultimate only) computer, but want to ‘downgrade’ it to Windows XP (many businesses try to keep all their computers running the same operating system to simplify support and troubleshooting).

These downgrade rights will reportedly exist until 2020, which should be more than enough time for businesses to move forward.

Frankly, Windows 7 has proven to be such an improvement in performance and stability over both Windows XP and Vista, that at your next opportunity (generally when you buy your next computer) you should willingly and enthusiastically make the switch.

Windows XP was originally introduced in 2001 when surfing the Internet was much safer and most viruses were silly programs written by unsociable young computer nerds with nothing better to do with their lives.

Today, exploiting computers running old software is a multi-billion dollar organized crime focus and the longer you stick to the old operating systems, the more of a target you will become for these sophisticated criminal operations.

I generally adhere to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ position, but when it comes to using a 10-year-old operating system, I have a slightly different position.

Computer code that old is in a sense ‘broken’ because it lacks today’s weapons to help protect you from the myriad of exploits that focus on tricking you into clicking on or installing something malicious that will silently exploit you and your computer.

If you have a computer that is four to five years old (or older), then upgrading to Windows 7 isn’t something that I would recommend as you likely lack the processing power and memory needed for decent performance.

In those cases, you’ll need to wait until you are ready to buy a new computer, but make sure you diligently install every security update that Microsoft releases until then.

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show