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Upgrading old Windows to GNU/Linux

As a small public service to the numerous non-technical users of ageing equipment I've met, since April 2014 my website has included a piece of Javascript which displays the following message at the top of all my pages if it detects an outdated version of Windows:

Connecting old Windows to the Internet is dangerous. Upgrade to Linux urgently!

My site detected you're using an old Windows computer, and I'm worried about your safety. Microsoft's security blog said:
When Microsoft releases a security update...criminals will...identify the specific section of code that contains the vulnerability...develop code that will allow them to exploit it on systems that do not have the security update installed on them.  They also try to identify whether the vulnerability exists in other products...if a vulnerability is addressed in one version of Windows, researchers investigate whether other versions of Windows have the same vulnerability...the Microsoft Security Response Center...[releases] security updates for all affected products simultaneously...But after April 8, 2014, organizations that continue to run Windows XP won't have this advantage over attackers any longer.  The very first month that Microsoft releases security updates for supported versions of Windows, attackers will reverse engineer those updates, find the vulnerabilities and test Windows XP to see if it shares those vulnerabilities.  If it does, attackers will attempt to develop exploit code that can take advantage of those vulnerabilities on Windows XP.  Since a security update will never become available for Windows XP to address these vulnerabilities, Windows XP will essentially have a ``zero day'' vulnerability forever.
This also applies to Windows Vista (ended in 2017), to Windows 8 (8.0 ended 2016 and 8.1 ended 2023), to Windows 7 (ended 2023, extended from 2020), and to Windows 2000 and earlier.

What does this mean?

Attackers typically scan across the whole Internet to find computers they can attack.  Being `insignificant' does NOT mean you'll escape. Simply connecting your computer to the Internet will be enough for them to break in and:

What can I do?

My suggestion is GNU/Linux, specifically a ``beginner-friendly'' Ubuntu-derived version.

If your computer is 64-bit capable and can boot from multi-gigabyte media (DVD or USB, not CD-only), then I suggest Lubuntu's LTS release.

What about even older computers?

Most 'consumer' PCs sold since early 2007 (when Vista was new) can read DVDs and run 64-bit code. If your computer is older than that (e.g. Windows XP era) then I suggest using the old wattOS-LXDE R9 CD-ROM image and upgrading after installation. It also works from USB via UNetbootin etc.

What if I don't want to install GNU/Linux?

Well there is another alternative system called BSD (a version called "GhostBSD" is fairly beginner-friendly), but if you don't want to leave Windows at all then you will likely need a new computer if you wish to continue to use the Internet.  Your old computer can perhaps be put to good use by someone who doesn't use the Internet, or by a trustworthy GNU/Linux expert (I say `trustworthy' because they can sometimes recover confidential things you thought you'd deleted).  For new equipment, I suggest a Raspberry Pi 400 which comes with GNU/Linux preinstalled; you might need something more substantial, but it should still be possible to avoid Windows.
All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.