If you’ve used a computer, you’ve probably used Windows XP. That will soon be a thing of the past. At its peak, Windows XP was the world’s most popular operating system, hitting almost 80 percent of consumer use. However, time has moved on, and the venerable OS now holds only between 10-30 percent of the market share. In 2012, Microsoft announced that XP was nearing its end of life and would be discontinued in April 2014. Now that date is fast approaching.

Discontinuation of a software means that while the program will continue to work, the software provider will no longer write new code for it. For Windows XP, this means it will be highly susceptible to viruses and other errors.

Even Up-to-Date Systems Are Vulnerable

Even up-to-date XP systems are highly vulnerable. According to its Security Intelligence Report, Microsoft disclosed that Windows XP was almost six times as likely to be infected as Windows 8. With discontinuation looming, this number will only grow higher.

According to Tim Rains of Microsoft, vulnerability increases exponentially as software is discontinued. Microsoft will continue to issue patches for new versions of Windows, and some of those patches will fix problems still in XP. However, most of XP’s problems will not be fixed. Hackers can use that knowledge to target known holes in the operating system.

A second reason that hacks are likely to increase is that hackers are well aware of XP's upcoming discontinuation. If there are holes in the software, it will be to the hacker’s advantage to wait until they can no longer be fixed. (Learn more about this problem in Is Security Research Actually Helping Hackers?)

Time to Switch? Here's What to Do

About 25 percent of computers are still running Windows XP, making it the world’s second-most popular operating system. What should you do if you don’t want to be hit hard, come April? There are a number of paths you can take.

The first is the upgrade path. While Windows Vista added little and was poorly received, Windows 7 is incredibly popular and Windows 8 can offer some benefits. Consult with a technology specialist to see if your computer is capable of running these newer operating systems. That said, Windows XP is famous for being lightweight and running on many systems. Newer versions of the operating system can be harder to run on old computers.

If your computer is old, you want to be protected and you’re not ready to buy a new machine, consider Linux. Linux is an open-source operating system that comes in hundreds of different versions. Linux provides the core for the Android operating system and even runs a United States battleship. For everyday use, the best version is Ubuntu, which offers the best security on the market. It can be downloaded for free, installed from Windows and performs most tasks, like email, Web surfing and document editing. If you have a more technical bent, you can even tweak the source code to customize your installation.

The Best Advice: Ditch XP Now

Regardless of which path you take, you’ll be better off moving on than staying with Windows XP. At 13 years old, the operating system needs to be turned out to pasture. Perhaps it won’t be long before we see that blue task bar in a museum. (Puzzling about what to upgrade to? Check out Forget Windows 8: Why Your Next Upgrade Should Be to Windows 7.)