It's Time to Stop Stalling About Upgrading Windows 7 Computers

NEWS ANALYSIS: Mainstream support for Microsoft’s most popular operating system, Windows 7, has already run out and the end of security updates is just three years away.  

Windows 10 Upgrades 2

Windows XP should be a distant, but perhaps painful, memory by now. You remember the angst that came with the end of support for XP, with companies and personal users continuing to use the long-obsolete desktop operating system long after Microsoft had introduced new Windows versions.

For the most part, Microsoft finally succeeded in weaning us off XP by offering an OS that was vastly better in the form of Windows 7.

Now the same thing is happening with Windows 7. Mainstream support has already ended except for those with paid support contracts. All support will end in three years on Jan. 14, 2020. That means Microsoft won send out security updates anymore. If you’re still running Windows 7 by then the operating system will become increasingly more vulnerable to malware writers and hackers.

This means that you have three years to decide what to do with your PCs that are currently running Windows 7. Microsoft has been pleading and providing multiple inducements to get people to upgrade to Windows 10.

The company has even managed to anger people by trying to slip upgrades in under the radar. Enterprise customers in particular have been under increasing pressure to move away from 7 (or 8.1 if you’re stuck with that) and move into the world of Windows 10 either by buying new computers or installing the upgrade.

But let’s say that you, like the majority of Windows users, are still running Windows 7. You’ve already missed the free upgrade opportunity. You’re also out of the time when you can get free support. There will be no more improvements or feature upgrades to Windows 7. Yet, you’re still running Windows 7.

There are likely several reasons why you haven’t upgraded to Windows 10. The most likely is that your current computer came with Windows 7 and you’re planning to upgrade to Windows 10 when you get new hardware. Since the typical economic life of a business PC is about three years, then that upgrade will likely happen before three years is up.

But there are huge numbers of businesses large and small that continue running old hardware with earlier Windows versions for five years and more until the computers utterly fail and are beyond economical repair.

There’s also a chance that some application you depend on runs under Windows 7, and either you know it doesn’t work with Windows 10 (because you’ve tested it), or you are pretty sure it won’t. It's possible the application hasn’t been upgraded since the days of Windows XP.

There’s the classic situation where you can’t get funding either for the purchase price of Windows 10 or for a new computer. Or it may be that you can’t upgrade to Windows 10 because it's so old it your computer can’t run it.

The universe of computers that are unable to run Windows 10 is small, but it does exist, and I have one of those in the form of an HP xw8200 workstation, which is plenty fast with its two Xeon processors, but there’s a CPU instruction that Windows 10 requires, but which the CPU can’t handle. In short, this is an example of a computer that will never run the new OS.

With three years left, it’s now time to start making sure that your computers are running a secure, current, operating system. Business economics being what they are, that means it’s time to start your budgeting process so that your obsolete computers are replaced by the time support for Windows 7 runs out. This will give you time to make sure that any software you’re using is compatible with Windows 10, even if you have to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, this is a good time to start flagging reports in eWEEK and elsewhere about the latest security breaches, about executives that lost their jobs because of security breaches or better yet, those that faced lawsuits or even faced criminal charges because they failed to adequately maintain cyber-security. That's sure to get the attention of even the most recalcitrant CFO.

It may also be time to start considering alternatives to Windows, especially for the back office. While Windows Server has a reputation for reliability and stability, so does Linux, where you rarely have to worry about end of life issues and where upgrades seem to go on forever.

While Microsoft and to a lesser extent Apple pretty much have the desktop nailed down, the same isn’t true of server platforms and you can switch if you start planning now. And yes, I know those servers aren’t running Windows 7. Windows Server has the same limitations for support as the desktop version.

So just ignore the bargain prices for Windows 7 workstations and laptops in the electronics ads and start buying Windows 10 machines. Just because an inexpensive new computer is running Windows 7 doesn’t mean that Microsoft's technical support policy will change, because it won’t.

But if you start the upgrade and replacement process now you can complete it while Microsoft is still providing Windows 7 security updates. Believe me, the last thing you want to do is try to explain to your bosses why you bought a bunch of new computers, knowing that they would soon lose their security support.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...