Millions of PC users are still running Microsoft's 13-year old operating system — around 30 percent of all users according to estimates. But with official support ending, it's now time for businesses to upgrade and move on. Despite a recent extension to support for malware, more old PCs are destined to fall by the wayside and suffer from the lack of support from new software.

We look at the positive reasons to move on and your upgrade options, as well as mark the end of a fine operating system.

The Long Goodbye

We've been saying goodbye to Windows XP since around 2011, when the drive kicked in to move to newer versions with modern security, browser support and other features. However, to this day, large numbers of users are happy running their office and email programs on XP. Alas, the operating system's days are numbered.

Weighed down by endless service packs, updates and third-party patches, increasingly complex security applications and other tools, Windows XP machines are getting slower and more unreliable, hampering productivity.

When they go wrong, it might be quicker to upgrade than restore, and they are also under greatest threat from vulnerabilities as a recent security report highlighted. Apps, browser and hardware updates are also focused on later systems, leaving XP in its own shrinking island of resources.

Most importantly, Windows XP support officially ends in April, but Microsoft has added an extra year of anti-malware updates to protect laggards. Does that send out mixed messages? Perhaps, as businesses really should be upgrading now.

On the plus side, since most Windows XP applications will run on later versions of Windows — perhaps in compatibility mode — so unless you have hardware not supported by later version, there is less reason to hang on. Which leaves the question of how businesses should upgrade? 

Upgrade Options

Windows users, even those with little interest in IT, will have read much comment over the suitability of Windows 8 for the office and business. General sales of Windows 7 stopped last October. But many enterprises are — even as we speak — still in the process of upgrading to that OS. Vendor HP has even started a new campaign proclaiming Windows 7 is back by popular demand.

Learning Opportunities

Or, the brave among you might want to wait for Windows 9, which should be shown off soon. 

Smaller businesses can still buy copies of Windows 7 while they last, and Microsoft still offers volume licenses for larger companies. Companies that are buying new PCs will likely find that it will ship with Windows 8 by default. However,  most vendors have an option to supply Windows 7 as an alternative, often with a Windows 8 license for possible updating later. 

As far as what kind of system to buy, we're gone a long way from the days when the choice was a vertical tower or a huge slab under a hefty CRT monitor. From desktop all-in-ones to desktops the size of a sandwich box, there is a huge choice. Notebooks range from the ultra-chunky desktop replacement to supermodel-slim, yet still with decent power. Add in Surface and other tablets (most of which are Windows 8 or Windows RT only), and there's a world of choice for upgrades.

Beyond the Desktop

Outside of the office, there are also millions of devices running embedded versions of Windows XP. It simply isn't practical to update the world's ATMs or the endless slot and arcade machines, cash registers, set-top boxes, network attached storage, time clocks and other devices out there. 

Those will have to phased out slowly leaving little sign, except for crashed machines waving an error message or login screen that Windows XP ever existed. Share your memories of XP as it moves into history, or let us know where it's still in use, and what its doing. 

Title image by iQoncept (Shutterstock).