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A closer look at the reasons why you should dump Windows XP now

The time has come to say goodbye. Today, Microsoft is officially ending support for its ageing operating system, Windows XP.

For the tech-savvy, this is a non-issue. You've said goodbye to XP, which first launched in 2001, and embraced a more modern OS, like Windows 7 or Windows 8. But March data from Net Applications showed that XP is still the second most popular operating system around the globe, with 27.69 per cent of the market. So there are more than a few devices out there that need an upgrade — and fast.

Microsoft has been pleading with customers to upgrade to a new OS for years. While that might seem like a marketing ploy to get you to buy Redmond's latest offering, there are a few reasons why you might want to take the company's advice.

Why should I upgrade?

First and foremost, this is a security issue. Windows XP-based machines will still work after today, but Microsoft will no longer roll out security updates for the OS. That means your computer will be more susceptible to hackers and other scammers, who could exploit bugs that Microsoft is no longer fixing to gain access to your machine and steal your personal information.

Are there any exceptions?

Amidst some backlash, in February Redmond officially extended Microsoft Security Essentials updates for Windows XP users through July 2015. "For enterprise customers, this applies to System Centre Endpoint Protection, Forefront Client Security, Forefront Endpoint Protection and Windows Intune running on Windows XP," Microsoft said. "For consumers, this applies to Microsoft Security Essentials."

Still, Redmond cautioned that anti-malware solutions on outdated operating systems are limited. Some antivirus providers will extend support for XP users, but not all.

Is this really a huge deal or Y2K-level dramatics?

It seems like news of a new data breach or computer scam makes headlines every day; do you really want to put yourself at risk because you like XP, or you just don't want to bother with an upgrade? According to a recent report from Ondrej Vlcek, Avast's chief operations officer, Windows XP users' systems will be "six times" more likely to come under attack by third parties than those running Windows 7.

So, how do I make the switch?

Microsoft has an online tutorial that will help you upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7. Make sure you back up all your files, as the update will not preserve your programs, files, or settings.

Can I upgrade to Windows 8?

It's not impossible, but "Windows 8.1 isn't designed for installation on PCs running Windows Vista or Windows XP," Microsoft warns. If you're eyeing Windows 8, your best bet is probably to buy a new machine (if you can afford it, that is).

What's so great about Windows 7 or Windows 8?

Besides the security protection, Windows 7 is two steps ahead of XP (let's just forget about Vista, shall we?) so it comes with some bells and whistles that most PC users will want to take advantage of. For more, check out Windows 7: 10 handy hidden features, as well as our guide to customising Windows 7.

Microsoft, of course, would much prefer that you embrace its latest operating system, Windows 8. It has been slow to pick up market share (it was just over 11 per cent in February) thanks to the touch-centric UI, but today, Microsoft is rolling out Windows 8.1 Update, an operating system revamp that might make Windows 7 fans more comfortable making the switch to Windows 8. For more, check out 8 things everyone should know about the Windows 8.1 update.

Also, you might want to have a gander at Microsoft's website on the XP transition.