PDQ Library:  Windows XP & Office 2003 support ends

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP operating system and Microsoft Office 2003 software. Security updates for Microsoft Security Essentials for XP continues until July 14, 2015. Microsoft security updates for web browser Internet Explorer for XP ended some time ago.

Any Windows XP computer system is now vulnerable to malware. Do NOT continue to use your XP computer connected to the Internet. You must make a change immediately. The most expensive option is to buy a new system, move your personal files to it, and give the old machine to the electronic recyclers. The least expensive is to install Linux (Ubuntu version) operating system on your computer. Below are some options to consider.

Replace XP with a Linux Operating System

Linux (linux.com) will run web browsers as well as office software that is compatible with your Windows documents, spreadsheets, etc. Best of all, you can switch for free! First you must choose a "distribution" of Linux (linux.com/directory/Distributions), which may be difficult if you're new to it, so try Ubuntu. Then find additional software. All this can be found here: linux.com/directory.

You may want to study a free course called "Introduction to Linux" (LFS101x.2) at edx.org. You will learn both the graphical interface and command line, covering the major Linux distribution families.

Buy a New Device

Buy a device such as a tablet or a Google Chromebook that can run a variety of apps (software programs). A Chromebook is essentially a web browser without an operating system, but is fine if you already do everything in a web browser with a mouse and keyboard. A free Google account provide you with word processing, spreadsheets, and storage in the "cloud". Tablets are quite different from laptops as they rarely allow you to use a keyboard or a mouse. You can also find inexpensive laptops with Windows 7 or 8 operating systems (Windows 10 will replace both).

Using Windows XP offline only

There's another option - unplug the ethernet or turn off all network connections. You can continue to use XP for non-Internet uses such as specialized XP software, games, word-processing, spreadsheets, and photo editing. But not for email or web browsing.

Using Windows XP on a home network - but not the Internet

This is a varient of the previous option and may be difficult to set up. If you need to connect to other computers and devices in your local network via your home router, then leave the ethernet/Wi-fi network connected but set options so Windows XP is completely blocked from the Internet. (The other devices on the network won't be affected.) To configuring Windows XP to block its access to the Internet:

  1. Go to Tools--Internet Options, and click on Connections.
  2. Click the LAN settings button.
  3. Check the Use a proxy server box.
  4. Enter into the Address box.
  5. Check the Bypass proxy server for local addresses box.

Using Windows XP connected to the Internet

If you insist on continuing to use your Windows XP system, you need to make these important changes in your software. [Most of the software mentioned is available here: PDQ Library: best free software]

  1. Keeping your antivirus software updated. Recommended: Microsoft Security Essentials for constant monitoring and Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware (and others) for occasional system scans.
  2. Uninstall Microsoft Office 2003 and replace it with more secure software, such as WPS Office Free (former Kingsoft Office) - it is compatible with most Office files. If you only need to view MS Office documents (Word, Excel,..), you can use their free Microsoft office document viewers. (PDQ Library: Office software)
  3. Stop using Microsoft Internet Explorer as your default web browser (you cannot uninstall it). Remove all "icons" that open it. Install either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. If you use Firefox, use the "addon" called NoScript to block scripts (code that runs on web pages that you view). Since most websites run scripts, you can "allow" trusted websites easily with toolbar icons. Other addons can block popups and cookies.
  4. Web Search - Be very careful using search results, especially for "free software". Many links will take you to a site containing malware or unwanted services. Never again download software. (Firefox has addons for rating safety of search results)
  5. Email - Use mail filters so any address that is not in your address book is flagged or sent to the Trash folder. Never open mail attachments, even if they appear to be from friends (some may be "saved" and scanned first). Never click on links in email. Never!
  6. Create a system backup "image" while your system is working properly. Acronis True Image and old versions of Norton Ghost will work in XP. Then if your system is compromised and even cannot start, you can restore it to a previous working state.
  7. Create a "boot disk" that can be used to start your computer in an emergency. Create a "rescue disk" too - it should contain a virus scanner and other tools that can help get your broken system working again.
  8. Backing up your personal files daily is easy to do. Backups of photos and videos to a CD, external drive or "Cloud storage" will keep them safe in case of hardware failure or other disaster.
  9. Modern routers have hardware firewalls and some filtering built in. Make sure yours is set up properly.
  10. OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) is an online service that offers filtering from malware by blocking suspect sites. It's free and works well for home networks. It requires editing DNS settings in your router's admin software.
  11. Optional: Disconnect from the Internet when you don't need it, either through software (Network connections) or by physically pulling out the plug.
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