Windows 7 Enters Its Final Year of Support

Posted on January 14, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Windows, Windows 10 with 75 Comments

One year from today, on January 14, 2020, Microsoft will officially stop supporting Windows 7, the most popular version of the platform so far. Beyond that one fact, there are many questions, and the terrible previous experience of Microsoft’s repeated attempts at closing the door on Windows XP support.

“Every Windows product has a lifecycle,” the Microsoft support website notes. “The lifecycle begins when a product is released and ends when it’s no longer supported. Knowing key dates in this lifecycle helps you make informed decisions about when to update, upgrade or make other changes to your software.”

From a support perspective, the key dates for Windows 7 are January 13, 2015, when the system ended its five-year mainstream support cycle, and January 14, 2020, when it exits extended support. As a legacy Windows OS, Windows 7 is governed by Microsoft’s old 10-year fixed lifecycle policy during which it could get feature updates during that mainstream support period; in reality, Windows 7 received only a single Service Pack, and it never really received any major new features.

Windows 7 is also impacted by Microsoft’s run-in with Intel over the “Skylake” generation of processors. As such, Windows 7 receives only “limited support” on Skylake and newer generation Intel and AMD processors, a move that Microsoft hoped would lead to improved Windows 10 adoption. That didn’t work, of course, and Windows 10 usage only very recently surpassed that of the 9-year-old Windows 7.

Which is why the next year is going to be so interesting.

As I wrote in Will Windows 7’s Exit Trigger a Windows 10 Upgrade Wave? (Premium), Windows 7’s user base is made up of individuals and businesses of all sizes, none of which seem particularly interested in upgrading. And based on history, especially what happened when Microsoft tried to retire Windows XP, Microsoft may find itself in a difficult position by January 2020.

It has already agreed to let its biggest business customers pay for additional support well beyond that January 14, 2020 date, and that support gets more expensive each year going forward. But that doesn’t help individuals or smaller businesses that are using PCs which, by most accounts, will continue working fine past that date, regardless of Microsoft’s semi-arbitrary support policies.

How Microsoft handles this will be interesting. With Windows XP, the firm had to extend support at least twice, and that system was officially supported for a record 12 years. Worse, Microsoft had to address emergency support requests, such as from the UK governmental health system, when their XP-based PCs were hacked years after support ended. Policies are one thing, but what else can you do when a government calls and pleads for help?

The situation with Windows 7 will be even worse, because there are far more PCs out in the world running this system now than was the case with XP when it was retired. In fact, there are over 600 million Windows 7 PCs being actively used right now. It’s unlikely that most of them will be replaced or retired within a year.

Offering free Windows 10 upgrades again won’t help: Most Windows 7 PCs are now several years old and are architecturally out of date, and more easily compromised by hackers. My advice to Microsoft is to adjust the Windows 10 support life cycle to entice upgraders. And while I don’t see a return to a fixed support policy of 10 years, there is surely some wiggle room in a scheme in which Microsoft now issues two major OS upgrades every single year, with little or no way to delay or ignore these upgrades.

What it does, Microsoft’s response to the real-world issues faced by several hundred million Windows 7 upgraders could emerge as the biggest Windows story of 2019. I suspect it will be something we return to again and again throughout the next year.

 

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