You should be upgrading from Windows XP, but we have to face facts — many people won’t upgrade before the end-of-support date. If you’re still using one of those XP computers, the best thing you can do is ditch Internet Explorer for a more modern browser. This is the main thing you can do to make your Windows XP system more secure.
Stop Using Internet Explorer Now
The most recent version of Internet Explorer available on Windows XP is Internet Explorer 8. This version is already several major versions old — modern versions of IE like Internet Explorer 11 are surprisingly good, but Internet Explorer 8 is still stuck in the stone ages and isn’t much better than the old, busted Internet Explorer 6.
Not only is IE 8 already an outdated browser without the latest features and performance improvements, it will be completely unsupported with security patches when Microsoft ends support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. If you have to use Windows XP, that’s one thing — but you shouldn’t use Internet Explorer anymore.
We’re not the only ones saying this. US-CERT, part of the US Department of Homeland Security, recently recommended using a browser other than Internet Explorer if you must use Windows XP. Microsoft won’t tell you to use a different browser, but they’ll definitely tell you to stop using IE on Windows XP. Microsoft would rather you upgrade to a more recent version of Windows with a newer version of IE, of course.
You should also avoid browsers that use Internet Explorer’s rendering engine. For example, old versions of Maxthon and Avant Browser act as shells around Internet Explorer, providing a different interface, but being vulnerable to the same security bugs Internet Explorer is.
Don’t Use Safari Anymore
If you have Apple’s Safari browser for Windows installed on your Windows XP system, uninstall it. Apple are no longer updating Safari for Windows; they’re only updating Safari for Mac OS X. This means Safari for Windows is an old, out-of-date, insecure browser that isn’t receiving updates — just like Internet Explorer.
If you really want to use Safari on your computer, get a Mac. Safari for Windows was an unsuccessful and discontinued experiment for Apple.
This isn’t a Chrome vs. Firefox battle, so we’re not going to pass judgment on which of these two browsers is best. Both are great options for Windows XP users and will be supported with security updates going forward. Google says they’ll support Chrome for Windows XP until at least April 2015, while Mozilla has said they have no plans to stop supporting Windows XP.
If you’re using Windows XP, install Chrome or Firefox right now. Both browsers will offer to import your Internet Explorer favorites to make your switch as seamless as possible.
You could also use the Opera web browser. Opera Software has said they plan to support Windows XP for as long as it remains a popular choice among their users. Opera now uses the same browser engine and extensions as Chrome, so it will be familiar to Chrome users — but it’s also a less compelling alternative, as it feels so familiar to Chrome.
Better yet, all of these browsers offer their current version on Windows XP. You’ll get all the latest browser features and performance improvements, while Internet Explorer users will be stuck with a browser several major versions old.
But I Need Internet Explorer!
Some people still need an old version of Internet Explorer to connect to certain websites. For example, you might use an internal business website that requires an outdated version of IE. If you must use Internet Explorer for some things, don’t use it for everything — open it only to use that specific website and use another browser most of the time.
You can also install an IE Tab browser extension for Firefox or Chrome. Configure IE Tab to always load that old website in an Internet Explorer frame inside your browser and you won’t have to worry about opening and closing IE. Just browse with your modern browser and, when you visit the old website, it will automatically load with IE inside your modern browser.
If you’re still using Internet Explorer 8, you should have switched to Firefox, Chrome, or Opera long ago. These browsers support Windows XP properly, while Microsoft holds back new versions of Internet Explorer as a reward for upgrading to new versions of Windows.
Image Credit: Jorgen Kesseler on Flickr