If you’re still using Windows XP on your PC, you’ll soon need to think about upgrading to Windows 7, or another operating system.

Microsoft has announced that it will stop supporting Windows XP in any way after April 8 2014 — that’s less than three years away. This means that it will no longer release any bug fixes or security patches for the operating system, which in turn means any security holes discovered after this date will be ripe for exploitation by hackers.

Windows XP was launched in 2000 and it’s unprecedented for the same version of an operating system to still be in such widespread active use for so long. The situation was, of course, partly caused by its successor being a bit of a stinker and lots of people opted to stick with Windows XP rather than suffer Windows Vista.

The current Windows 7, on the other hand, is an excellent operating system, but you may not be able to run it on your current Windows XP PC if you’re using one that’s more than a few years old — it needs a fast processor and at least 2GB of memory to work well.

Three years is still a long time to wait, of course, and Windows 8 will almost certainly be in widespread use by the time 2014 rolls around, So, assuming that forthcoming version of Windows isn’t another lame duck like Vista, it’s worth holding on until it launches if you plan to buy a new PC to replace an ancient one with Windows XP.

Otherwise, the only sensible option is to keep your PC, but dump Windows XP in favour of a free operating system like Ubuntu Linux. This runs well on old computers, but won’t be able to run any of your existing software without a little extra effort.

Whatever you end up doing though, just be warned that running Windows XP after April 2014 might put your PC and anything stored on it at serious risk.