Windows XP users can't get no respect. A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft announced that it would no longer offer free support for XP, apart from critical security patches. XP machines are much more likely than Vista systems to be infected with a virus, according to a recent Microsoft Security Intelligence Report.
And dis of disses, Microsoft delayed patching the AutoRun glitch in XP (and Windows Server 2003) until last February, more than six months after the same hole was plugged in Vista and Server 2008.
But just because Microsoft believes XP has outlived its usefulness doesn't mean you have to find a fresher OS. There's plenty of life left in your XP machines, though keeping XP hale and hearty is now up to users more than ever.
Get help with XP security
Usually, I would direct you to Microsoft's XP Security and Privacy page, but frankly, there's not much there besides ads for Microsoft security products. The company hasn't even bothered to update the page since Service Pack 2.
You'll find a much more comprehensive look at XP security issues at the Secure XP guide provided by Comcast. (Just be sure to skip the ads that appear at the top of the page.) The guide includes links to such useful free utilities as GRC Shields Up!, Autoruns, TCPView, and Process Explorer.
Find answers to XP-related problems
Your first stop when seeking solutions to Windows XP glitches is Kelly's Korner, which features extensive FAQs, performance tweaks, and links to several support sites and forums. I tend to shy away from the site's Registry tweaks and other scripts, but if you're more adventurous than I am, you'll find hundreds of ways to customize your XP configuration. Just remember to back up (there's information on that, too).
The Microsoft Help and Support site provides help diagnosing XP start-up problems. The page includes about a dozen links to other Knowledge Base articles on solving XP problems, including identifying mystery Device Manager entries and curing standby, hibernate, and shutdown woes.
Another great resource for anyone trying to get XP back on track is the CNET Windows XP forum, which you can browse for posts relating to your particular problem. However, considering that there are close to 33,000 separate threads on the forum, you may want to use its search feature instead. Just enter your term in the search box at the top of the screen and choose either All CNET Forums or within this forum in the drop-down menu to the right.
Improve XP's performance
An operating system as old as XP is bound to get a little crotchety in its old age. You can bring back some of the OS' youthful vigor by clearing out the cobwebs. Unfortunately, many so-called XP performance tweaks are more trouble than they're worth. The How-To Geek debunks many of the so-called speedup tips that are anything but.
As you might expect, Microsoft provides advice on enhancing XP's performance on its Help and Support site. The page includes a Guided Help download that promises to automate the tweak process. I prefer the page's manual instructions, myself. There's another nice collection of XP speedup tips on BlackViper.com's Super Tweaks for Windows XP.
One debatable performance tweak for XP and every other operating system is defragmenting your hard disk. Just last week, I received yet another pitch from a disk-defrag vendor promising faster disk accesses. Is the time spent running a disk-defragger utility worth it? That's a subject for a future post.