It has been a decade since Windows 7 was released to the public, just two years after Microsoft launched the ill-fated Windows Vista, an operating system that struggled to live up to the tech leader’s predecessors. Vista was slow, unsecure, and often incompatible with consumers’ existing PCs, requiring the purchase of new systems – an expense few were willing to pay. Many users chose to stick with Windows XP—released in 2001 – rather than deal with the unpredictable hassle of what could, in the public’s opinion, barely be considered an upgrade. After this flop, Microsoft scrambled to restore their reputation and develop a new OS, one which would finally live up to the hype the brand name evoked.
Prior to its launch on October 22, 2009, Windows 7 broke the record for highest-grossing preorders on Amazon, a record previously held by the last Harry Potter novel. Upon its release, Windows 7 received high praise from critics for its new and updated features, many of which were improvements upon Vista’s poorly executed ideas. Its speed, enhanced taskbar, and sleek, touchscreen-friendly interface finally brought Windows users into the 21st century.
It’s no wonder people are unwilling to part with the OS. Its successor, Windows 8, received so much criticism from the public upon its 2012 release that Microsoft developed Windows 8.1 within the year. This updated version addressed complaints and improved mechanics many desktop users found clunky, but hardcore Windows 7 users remained unconvinced. Even after the release of Windows 10 in 2015, it took nearly three years for its worldwide market share to surpass that of 7’s, and Windows 7 still holds nearly twenty-eight percent of the worldwide market share today.
Table 1. Desktop Windows Version Market Share Worldwide from Mar 2018 to Oct 2019 via StatCounter
But if you’re one of those stubborn Windows 7 fans, you’ll want to reconsider your stance, and soon: Microsoft is officially ending support for the OS on January 14, 2020.
What does this mean?
Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7 in 2015. This meant that no new features would be developed for the operating system. However, the January 2020 date refers to extended support; after January 14, Windows 7 will no longer receive security updates, and customers who continue to use it will do so at their own risk.
“My computer works just fine,” you say. “I don’t like change. If I don’t have to upgrade, why should I?”
It’s true, you don’t have to upgrade. Come January, you will still technically be able to download, install, and use Windows 7 on your PC. However, there are many reasons you shouldn’t.
Your PC is already unsecure.
Even as Microsoft continues to release security updates, major flaws already threaten your Windows 7 computer. In March, Google announced that two zero-day vulnerabilities affecting Google Chrome and Windows could potentially be exploited together, and that only Windows 7 seemed to be affected. Issues such as these will continue to arise with third-party programs, and developers will no longer prioritise fixing problems exclusive to an old OS.
Your programs will stop working.
Security flaws aren’t the only problem that will go unresolved as time goes on. Third-party programs will stop taking Windows 7 compatibility into account when developing updates and new versions. This means that while a program you use may continue to work, any newer versions or updates run the risk of failing.
Businesses can continue receiving support for their Windows 7 machines, but it will come at a cost.
If your company depends on a program that only runs on Windows 7, you can extend your support for up to three years—for a price. Microsoft’s Extended Security Updates will be available to businesses and other organisations through “qualified Cloud Solution Provider partners.” Prices are not publicly advertised, but companies will pay an increasing amount each year per device, leading to extremely high prices for some companies. The most cost-effective option for companies is an upgrade.
And if you’re a home user looking to extend your support, well…you can’t. Upgrading is the only option.
“So what do I do now?”
If you’ve finally been convinced to upgrade, you have a few options:
Upgrade your current machine to Windows 10.
This is almost certainly the best option for Windows 7 users. Windows 10 is Microsoft’s most up-to-date and secure OS and continues to receive regular security updates. Windows 10 is designed to make the upgrade easier by automatically transferring your files (though we still recommend backing up your files beforehand). Windows 10’s interface is friendly to both touchscreen and non-touchscreen users, meaning both types will find their PC habits relatively unchanged. For information on upgrading to Windows 10, read Microsoft’s official FAQ here.
Purchase a new PC.
Some older PCs may run slowly or not work at all with Windows 10. If you are currently running Windows 7 on older hardware, upgrading to Windows 10 may require a few additional steps, including the purchase of a new PC. Luckily, consumers have options, and a new computer doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg. You could buy new from Microsoft or another major retailer such as Dell or HP; or you could buy a refurbished PC at reduced cost.
Switch to Mac or Linux.
If you can’t stand the thought of switching to Windows 10, it may be time to try something new. Apple’s macOS and Linux are the two most popular alternatives to Windows, with pros and cons for both. It’s important to research each OS’s features, cost, and the transition process from Windows before making a decision. Keep in mind that Apple hardware is typically much more expensive when buying new.
With so many options to choose from, the only bad choice is doing nothing. You may be reluctant to spend the money or give up the familiar for an upgrade, but the risk to your home or business of keeping Windows 7 is too great to ignore.
Okay, I’ve made the switch.
My computer is secure now, right?
Maybe not. While upgrading your operating system is an important step, you also need to keep your software up to date. Using older versions of programs such as Microsoft Office can also pose a security risk. Microsoft Office 365 is the most up-to-date Office product available from Microsoft. Check to make sure each of your programs is running its most current version.
Desktop Windows Version Market Share Worldwide. (2019, November 11). Retrieved from StatsCounter: https://gs.statcounter.com/windows-version-market-share/desktop/worldwide
Foley, M. J. (2019, October 1). Microsoft to make Windows 7 Extended Security Updates available to all business users. Retrieved from ZDNet: https://www.zdnet.com/article/microsoft-to-make-windows-7-extended-security-updates-available-to-all-business-users/
Hoffman, C. (2019, October 9). How Windows 7’s “Extended Security Updates” Will Work. Retrieved from How-To Geek: https://www.howtogeek.com/443573/how-windows-7s-extended-security-updates-will-work/
Johnson, B. (2009, October 21). Windows 7 set to break retail records. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/oct/21/windows-7-launch
Lecigne, C. (2019, March 7). Disclosing vulnerabilities to protect users across platforms. Retrieved from Google Security Blog: https://security.googleblog.com/2019/03/disclosing-vulnerabilities-to-protect.html
McIntyre, D. A. (2009, May 14). The 10 Biggest Tech Failures of the Last Decade. Retrieved from Time: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1898610_1898625_1898627,00.html
Warren, T. (2013, June 26). Windows 8.1: A First Look at What Microsoft is Changing. Retrieved from The Verge: https://www.theverge.com/2013/6/26/4465888/windows-8-1-preview-video