Digital Life

Time is running out to upgrade or abandon Internet Explorer

Microsoft is scrapping security updates for older versions of Internet Explorer as it pushes PC owners towards Windows 10.

If you've upgraded to Windows 10 then you will have discovered Microsoft's new Edge web browser, a slick and more-secure replacement for Internet Explorer. Edge is designed from the ground up to run on Windows 10, so if you're still running an older version of Windows then you're stuck with Internet Explorer unless you want to switch to a third-party browser like Google Chrome or Firefox.

If you haven't made the leap to Windows 10 you must upgrade to Internet Explorer 11.
If you haven't made the leap to Windows 10 you must upgrade to Internet Explorer 11. 

Microsoft can't completely abandon support for Internet Explorer when so many PCs still rely on it. Windows 10 is a free update for most people but clearly not everyone is keen to rush in – after five months the number of PCs running Windows 7 still dwarfs those which have made the jump to Windows 10.

If you've held off on the upgrade to Windows 10 then it's vital to use Microsoft Update to install the latest version of IE11. Windows 7 shipped with IE8 and Windows 8 with IE10, so you need to check if you've upgraded. After January 12, Microsoft will no longer issue security patches for those older versions of Internet Explorer, leaving millions of PC users vulnerable if they don't upgrade.

The upgrade to IE11 is free and painless, but roughly 10 per cent of the world's browser traffic still comes from earlier versions of IE. If this sounds like you, now is the time to upgrade. You can be sure that hackers are sitting on unknown "zero day" vulnerabilities in earlier versions of IE, holding back on unleashing them until Microsoft stops releasing security patches.

Some people will argue that all Windows users should just bite the bullet and make the free upgrade to Windows 10 but, despite Microsoft's assurances, don't rush into Windows 10 without doing your research. As with any OS upgrade you'll need to approach it with caution on an old computer or if you're reliant on old software and hardware which might not play nicely with the new operating system.

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Mainstream support for Windows 8 ends in 2018 but you'll still receive security updates until 2023 – but ONLY if you've installed the free upgrade to Windows 8.1.

Meanwhile mainstream support for Windows 7 ends in January 2015, with security updates continuing to 2020 – but ONLY if you've installed Service Pack 1. If you're running the latest version of Windows 7 or 8.1 you might decide it's easier to hold off on Windows 10 until you buy your next computer.

The clock is ticking if you're still running Windows Vista. Even if you've installed Service Pack 2 your security updates will cease in 2017. You can't install Internet Explorer 11 on Vista, so the January cut off date for IE security updates might present a good excuse to pick up a new computer in the post-Christmas sales.

Microsoft has already scrapped security updates for Windows XP, so you're vulnerable to new threats right now. There's no free update from Windows XP to Windows 10, nor can you run IE11, but if your computer is old enough to have come with Windows XP pre-installed then it's certainly due for retirement. Friends don't let friends use XP, so you might need to help less tech-savvy friends and relatives make the move.

If you're wedded to expensive software or hardware that only works with Windows XP/Vista – like my friend Jane who needs to run an old version of PE Design to drive her embroidery machine – then try running XP/Vista in a virtual machine on your new PC. Install all the latest security patches, then cut off its internet access and use it sparingly.

If you're not tech-savvy then you probably put off major upgrades as long as possible, but you can't hold out forever. Microsoft's move to abandon support for older versions of Internet Explorer might be the incentive you need to bring your PC into the modern age.

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