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The WannaCry ransomware has wreaked havoc across the NHS since appearing at the end of last week, blocking staff from accessing patient data. It has also locked down computers across many other organisations, including Telefonica and FedEx, taking advantages of vulnerabilities in Windows XP - an operating system Microsoft launched in 2001 and withdrew full support for in 2015. Around 75,000 computers in 99 countries were affected by malware. Microsoft has now issued a public patch to update XP, a move which has been described as 'highly unusual' as the vendor is typically providing custom support. Here is how to upgrade to the latest operating system, Windows 10. 

In this story we explain things you should consider before you upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 10. We also address the benefits of upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 10, before taking you step-by-step through the process of upgrading a Windows XP PC to Windows 10. If you want to jump straight to those sections, just click the links below.

  1. Things to consider when upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 10.
  2. Benefits of upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 10.
  3. How to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 10.

How to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 10: Things to consider

Windows XP isn't eligible for a free update to Windows 10. That is more of a concern for home- rather than business users of Windows, but if you are running a Windows XP shop and looking to upgrade, there will be a cost attached. Of course, there is a cost attached to not moving on from XP. Potentially in terms of the security threat, but definitely when you take into consideration lack of support for third-party software and peripherals.

You knew that anyway. What may be of more concern is that you'll have to do a clean installation of Windows 10. Every, single, time.

There is simply no way to upgrade from Windows XP and keep your files, settings and programs. It isn't a limitation of Windows 10 but a built in limitation of XP. And that will cause a big problem in most offices. It is solvable, but before you start you need to think about backing up all files and folders, and making sure you have licences and code for all critical software programs. And warn people. A lot.

Even still you may also want to think about upgrading some of the hardware, for instance moving your PCs to SSDs. You definitely need to audit what you have in terms of hardware. Solid-state drives are much faster than traditional hard disks and can give a new lease of life to a PC you thought was destined for the scrap heap. But they are a cost, both in terms of the component and the time.

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So given that running XP means that you have machines that are over seven years old, it may be a better idea to save the money on a Windows 10 licence, take the plunge and put the cash towards news laptop or PCs. Again: a short-term cost that may offset long term costs. (See also: iPad Pro vs Surface Pro for business.)

How to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 10: Key benefits

For one thing, your colleagues will be surprised at how much quicker will be there computers once you install a fresh version of Windows. The system requirements of Windows really haven't changed since Windows Vista, and starting from a clean hard disk means there's no build-up of programs that start with Windows, slowing it down and using up precious memory. Plus Windows 10 is very light on system resources.

The other key benefits are security and compatibility. We have touched on the latter above, but suffice to say that in a cross-platform world you want to be able to sync with the latest hardware and software. XP will be able to do that only to a decreasing extent. Windows 10 buys you a lot more time.

More important, perhaps, is the security threat inherent in running an OS that is no longer supported. Windows 10 is naturally more secure due to its built-in antivirus and fleet management features, too. There is more on this here: Windows 10: Pros and cons for enterprise - why your business should move to Windows 10.

How to upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 10: How do I update a Windows XP PC to Windows 10?

If you are simply looking to upgrade any PC to Windows 10, read our piece: How to migrate to Windows 10: How do I move employees' PCs and devices to Windows 10?

Otherwise, let's get started. Which ever version of Windows 10 you are upgrading to, you'll have the option of a physical disc or a digital download. We recommend a physical disc, if upgrading from XP. (It seems unlikely that a seven-year-old PC won't have a DVD drive, but if not you will need a bootable USB drive.)

Once again, check that all files and folders have been copied to an external hard drive, USB thumb drive or a cloud storage service. Find your software installation discs and licence keys. If you have misplaced the keys, use a free program such as Magical Jellybean Keyfinder to search the Windows registry for these codes, and then write them down. Encourage your colleagues to back up their email inboxes, and export internet bookmarks and other settings that they want to keep. You will get pain from this, so aim for the least pain possible.

Now head to Microsoft's Windows 10 download page and click on the link for version you need. Use 32-bit only if your computer doesn't have a 64-bit processor - it may not if it is an XP PC. You need to save the file, and create a bootable DVD or USB thumb drive. Given that you will be doing this a lot, it may be worth purchasing Windows 10 media instead. If you are a business customer, speak to your sales rep.

Once you have a bootable drive, navigate to it and run setup.exe. The first screen will ask if you want to get the latest updates - it's worth doing this. Accept the licence terms and if you chose to, the installer will download the latest updates. Then, it will check to make sure your system meets the minimum requirements and if it does, will show a 'Ready to install' screen. You may also see a 'What needs your attention' screen explaining any reason why Windows 10 can't be installed and what you can do about it.

How to install Windows 10

Click install and your PC will reboot. You'll see a Windows logo, followed by a language selection. Keep an eye on the install as it will reboot your computer and if you don't remove the DVD or flash drive it might try to boot from it instead of your hard drive. The process should work automatically.

Finally, Windows 10 will boot, ask you a few questions and then ask you to sign in with your Microsoft ID. At this point you can set up the user structure you want on your PCs. When you finally get to the Windows 10 desktop, allow a bit of time for Windows 10 search for drivers for your hardware. The screen resolution may be wrong, but after a few minutes the correct resolution should be set. (See also: 15 essential open source tools for Windows admins working with Windows 10: free open source software for sysadmins.)

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