Microsoft recently announced that it will officially begin the Windows 7 end of life phase on Jan. 14, 2020. On that day, the company will stop supporting Windows 7 on laptops and desktops, and will no longer patch it with security updates. Of course, that might cause some consternation for consumers and enterprise users alike. Windows 7 is still a wildly popular operating system that, even 10 years after its release, is still relied upon by millions across the globe. And, as hard as Microsoft might try to push folks to Windows 10, it won’t be as easy to do so as the company might hope.
But all good things must come to an end. And soon enough, Windows 7 will be put out to pasture, leaving those who stick with the operating system at potentially higher risk of being targeted by hackers.
End of life is the term that Microsoft uses to identify the period when the company will no longer support an operating system or application. In this case, it means that, as of Jan.14, 2020, Microsoft will move on from Windows 7 and no longer patch security holes in the operating system. And if things go awry and bugs develop, you won’t be able to call on Microsoft to fix the problem. The move is often used by Microsoft and other companies to dedicate people and time to the applications and services that matter the most. But in a world where Windows 7 is still quite popular, there’s a chance that many people might not like the idea of Microsoft turning its back on the operating system a decade after its release.
So, when Microsoft’s end-of-life date hits, any PC, 2-in-1 laptop, tablet or other device you have that’s running on Windows 7 will be on its own when fending off hackers. You might be surprised to learn that Windows 10 only became the most popular Window version in the world at the end of the fourth quarter of 2018, taking the crown from Windows 7. At that time, Windows 10 captured 39% of market share, compared to 37% for Windows 7, according to Net Applications.
To put that into perspective, there are more than 1 billion Windows users around the world. So, hundreds of millions of people are going to be affected by this change. In years past, when Microsoft has put software into end of life, the company has offered up some hefty patches in the run-up to the date, to secure the operating system as much as possible. And while that was a welcome decision, it also meant that hackers had free rein after the end-of-life period hit. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for hackers, knowing when end of life hits, to wait until after that date to find ways to exploit vulnerable systems and wreak havoc. After all, if Microsoft isn’t going to support the operating system and there are still plenty of people using it, why not attack?
After a 10-year run, Microsoft is preparing to switch off free support and updates for both Windows 7 and Office 2010. That means one thing: Microsoft’s march toward 1 billion Windows 10 users begins in earnest now by convincing the users who constitute Windows 7’s 40-percent OS market share to pull the trigger on an upgrade. How will Microsoft reach that massive user base?
Microsoft Corporate VP Matt Barlow issued the announcement via this recent Windows Blog, saying: “Beginning next month, if you are a Windows 7 customer, you can expect to see a notification appear on your Windows 7 PC. This is a courtesy reminder that you can expect to see a handful of times in 2019.” I know what you’re thinking about. The endless and intentionally deceptive pop-ups that assaulted Windows 7 and 8 users, urging (and at times tricking) them into automatically upgrading to Windows 10. Microsoft hasn’t yet revealed the appearance or specific behavior of the notifications that will appear on your Windows 7 desktop.
As beloved as Windows 7 is, there are compelling security-based reasons to make the (paid) upgrade to Windows 10. One of which is the discovery of two zero-day vulnerabilities which both take advantage of Google’s Chrome browser to take over Windows 7 systems. Continuing to use Windows 7 without patches and updates will leave systems vulnerable to new exploits and malware as they emerge. AV-Test.org registered 67.7 million new strains of Windows malware during 2018, and the situation is only likely to get worse, as some security experts believe that malware developers are holding potential Windows 7 exploits back, ready to unleash them as soon as support ends.
For some businesses, running an unsupported OS isn’t even an option, as it will compromise basic due diligence and compliance standards. For those companies resistant to change either due to economic reasons or technological-preferences, or for those who have simply been caught unawares by the deadline, Microsoft is presenting several options that do allow support for WIndows 7 to continue. These options range from the free to the explicitly monetary.
Customers of Azure can use the Windows Virtual Desktop on the Azure service, which allows an additional three years of extended support as part of the package. Though this comes at no additional cost to existing Azure customers, initially migrating to the cloud service does unsurprisingly yield overheads.
Otherwise, customers can pay for Extended Security Updates, something that Microsoft has offered in the past to good feedback. The cost of the updates reflects their status as a temporary solution, existing for companies who have missed the January 2020 deadline. According to Microsoft, “Customers with active Software Assurance or subscription licenses can purchase Extended Security Updates for approximately 75% of the on-premises license cost annually.” For more details on pricing, contact your Microsoft account.
It should be stressed that such options should only be viewed as a method to ease transition, rather than a way to stave off migration altogether.
With Windows 7 still proving quite popular, despite its looming end date, a significant number of desktops are set to become vulnerable unless changes are made, and “criminals will be ready to strike as soon as they end of support date arrives,” explains Titcombe.
Titcombe also points out that organisations that stick with Windows 7 will become out of touch, and that’s where the move to Windows 10 is an opportunity. He says any organisation or individual making the move to Windows 10 will “be amazed about how much faster and more dynamic your environment becomes with the upgrade to Windows 10 and its supporting software like Office 365 and Windows server 2016”.
So, making the move to Windows 10 can be a lever to taking a fresh look at IT more generally, which was also true of BCS’ own migration.
“As part of our move to Windows 10, we have pushed the organisational IT policy forward with moves to more cloud operations and SaaS solutions,” explains Titcombe. “Our new Windows 10 environment is much more dynamic than our previous pre-Windows 10 thick-client environment.”
Even without taking that broader approach, there are software compatibility reasons to see the move as a good thing rather than a chore. Much of the draw of Windows 10 is the greater range of features it provides, and newer software and hardware are frequently designed with Windows 10 in mind, with no guarantee of the same experience on Windows 7.