Windows 7 has an expiration date. Like that past-date gallon of milk in the fridge, it won’t be good for long. Hopefully, this does not come as a surprise to you! Windows 7 went out of mainstream support on January 13, 2015. This date was of little impact, because Microsoft continued to update and keep Windows 7 secure. However, we are approaching a date that we do need to pay attention to – January 14, 2020, which marks the end of extended support.
This upcoming date means the end of Microsoft patching the Windows 7 operating system. This is critical, because it means that when a hacker finds a flaw that allows him to get into Windows 7, Microsoft will no longer create a patch for that flaw. When discovered, most hackers either freely disseminate this type of information or sell it on the dark web. This means that if you continue to use Windows 7 after January 2020, you are at a very high risk.
For this reason, it is highly recommended, if you have Windows 7 still in operation, you set a plan to get rid of it during the next year. Here are some simple steps to determine what to do with those Windows 7 machines:
1. Upgrade the hardware and the OS – In MOST cases this is the right answer. If you are running Windows 7, the machine hardware is at least close to the 5-year mark and likely older than 5 years. This means that the machine needs to be replaced for two reasons; it’s performance is not up to today’s standards, and the likelihood of failure goes up significantly after about 4 years of use. The hardware may even be limiting the productivity of the user, because it has been bogged down over the years by all the updates and patches. Most of the Windows 7 machines fall in the category, so it is time to replace the whole unit.
2. Upgrade the OS to Windows 10 but keep the hardware – This is a rarer circumstance, where the hardware is newer, but is still running Windows 7. In fact, if this is the case, when you bought the machine, you likely downgraded the operating system to Windows 7. You may have wanted to stay with something you knew, or you had a certain application that needed Windows 7. Before doing the upgrade, make sure your hardware can handle Windows 10. I would recommend 8GB of RAM and at least an i5 processor. To upgrade, you can buy box product Windows 10 to do the upgrade, or if you have a “Business” flavor of Office 365, it may have an included Windows 10 upgrade. An in-place upgrade is not possible. This means to get to Windows 10 from Windows 7, it requires a reload of the machine and a re-install of all your applications. The process takes a significant amount of time, so it pays to make sure the hardware is worth it.
3. Don’t upgrade at all – There are some odd cases where a machine upgrade is not possible, because the machine is tied into an expensive piece of production hardware that only works with Windows 7. This is a rare instance, but when it does happen, it is important to put some safeguards in place. First, after January 2020, Windows 7 should not be used to check email or browse the web. In fact, we strongly recommend that you remove the ability to access the Internet entirely from these machines. In addition, we recommend that if you must keep Windows 7, it be moved to its own separate virtual network. Even with these precautions, this is not a good long-term solution. Eventually, you will need to upgrade. Supporting an old operating system for the long term is cumbersome, risky, and not advisable.
You may be concerned about the move to Windows 10, but it has proven to be a relatively easy transition for most users. Some of the concern has been created by the fallout from Windows 8 which was much more cumbersome than Windows 10. In Windows 8, they removed the START button in early versions, which proved to be a bad move. This was corrected in Windows 10, and it now works much the same as Windows 7. The START button is there and navigation is as expected! The look and feel is slightly different, but the functionality is much the same as Windows 7.
Windows 10 has been out since July of 2015, which has given it plenty of time to be tested and solid. Interestingly, Microsoft is touting Windows 10 as the last version of Windows. This is because they have changed their process for updating their software. Windows now calls them “updates”, not to be confused with security patches, and they now come via downloaded delivery. This means that when these “updates” are loaded, you are on the new version. With this change, we should not hit the same boundary we are now experiencing with Windows 7.
A quick side-note about expiration dates, Windows Server 2008 has the same January 14, 2020 end-of-life date. Running an out-of-date server OS is perhaps riskier than staying on Windows 7, although neither are good. Servers are more of a target for hackers because of their processing power and storage capacity. If you haven’t already, plan to retire it and move up to either Server 2016 or the newly released Server 2019.
If the Windows 7 expiration or the Server 2008 expiration dates come as a surprise, you may want to consider setting a strategic plan for IT. These things and most IT items can be planned for, budgeted for, and the IT surprises can be limited. If you would like assistance with any of these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us.