If your computer uses the old but popular operating system Windows XP, as 29% of computers around the world still do, you need to upgrade your software to avoid the risk of having your machine crash or your personal data stolen. That’s because Microsoft stopped supplying XP users with free or paid tech support and security updates to protect against the latest viruses and spyware. (To confirm that your operating system is XP, click the “Start” button, type “Winver” and press “Enter.”)

Your computer may work fine right now, and using antivirus software will continue to fend off many dangers. But Microsoft’s updates were an essential line of defense, and cybercriminals already are exploiting the outdated XP system. That means hackers will probably have an easier time stealing your passwords and financial information with XP than with a newer operating system.

You can choose from several approaches to remedy the problem…

Switch to Windows 7. You could keep your old computer but upgrade its operating system to Windows 7…or you could buy a new Windows 7 computer.

Windows 7 is not the latest, most cutting-edge operating system from Microsoft, but it is a very good one—and nearly half of the computers in the world currently use it.

Buying a new computer may be a better use of your money than upgrading, given that computers loaded with XP typically are six to 12 years old, meaning that they are slow by today’s standards and subject to mechanical breakdown. You still can find a decent selection of new desktop and laptop computers preloaded with Windows 7 on the Web sites of manufacturers such as Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo.

Pros: Windows 7 is more secure than XP…uses the same familiar “desktop” screen and start menu…and functions similarly enough to make the transition easy. Cons: Some older computers don’t have enough memory to run Windows 7, and if you are dissatisfied with your old machine’s speed or storage capabilities, an upgrade won’t help much. Also, Microsoft will provide security updates for Windows 7 only until 2020. However, by then a new computer that you buy now is likely to need replacing or upgrading anyway. Cost of an upgrade: Less than $100 at online retailers such as Amazon.com. Cost of a new Windows 7 computer: About $350 and up.

Caution: Don’t upgrade an old Windows XP computer to Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 8. Older computers don’t have the needed hardware and can’t take advantage of its touch-screen capabilities.

Buy a new Windows 8 computer. Microsoft’s latest operating system, which debuted in 2012, is radically different from Windows 7 and XP, including a new interface that allows you to issue commands by touching your screen instead of using a keyboard (assuming that your system includes a touch-sensitive screen). Pros: You have a large variety of computers to choose from, since most new desktops and laptops now come bundled with Windows 8. Cons: This operating system has been widely criticized by users as confusing and difficult to learn. In October 2013, Microsoft responded by releasing Windows 8.1, which restored some familiar elements of the old operating systems. You can get a free upgrade from Microsoft if you buy a new computer with Windows 8. Cost: About $350 and up.

Switch to an Apple computer. Another option to consider is to stop using Microsoft Windows altogether and purchase an Apple computer instead—either an iMac desktop or MacBook laptop. Pros: Consumers often find Apple’s operating system far more user-friendly. And it has fewer problems with viruses and malware. Cons: You will need to learn a whole new operating system, although Apple retail stores offer free workshops to help new users learn the basics. And Apple computers are expensive—$1,000 and up.

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