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What Does End of Life Mean for Windows 7?

Time is up for Windows 7. Users have to move on, one way or another. As of January 14, 2020, Microsoft won’t offer any more support for the operating system. There will be no updates and no security patches. Continuing to use it on the Internet will be like walking through a malaria-infested swamp with no protection.

Choices are available. You can move to Windows 10. You can switch to a different operating system. If your business really doesn’t want to change, it can buy support for a few years. If you need to keep a Windows 7 computer (for testing purposes, perhaps), you can quarantine it from the Internet.

But you have to do something. Continuing to run Windows 7 as if nothing had changed will put your computers at serious risk of malware.

What is happening to Windows 7?

The Windows 7 operating system is over a decade old. Microsoft released it in July 2009, and it was the most popular version since Windows XP. The company can’t maintain it forever. First, it needs to focus its resources on the latest versions. Second, the longer a body of code is maintained and updated, the messier it gets. If the attempt goes on long enough, each change breaks almost as much as it fixes.

Mainstream support ended in 2015. Windows 8 had been available since 2012, but it wasn’t nearly as popular. The new user interface confused many people. They stayed with Windows 7 as long as they could, and a large number of them still have it.

Windows 10 came out at just about the same time that mainstream support for Windows 7 ended. (There was no Windows 9.) It got good reviews. However, it’s more demanding on system resources and Internet bandwidth than the previous operating systems. People with older machines or slow connections didn’t consider it practical. They’re sticking with an old OS that meets their needs. Some of them have applications that won’t run under newer versions of Windows.

Up to now, Microsoft has released bug fixes and security patches as necessary. That’s going away in Windows 7. It will have no protection against malware that appears in the future.

The situation is similar to what happened with Windows XP a few years ago. People loved XP and stayed with it as long as they could. A large number didn’t move on even when Microsoft dropped all support. They may have had machines that wouldn’t run anything newer. Some of them were IoT devices with an embedded OS that couldn’t be updated. In 2017, 7% of the computers in the world still ran XP.

Huge numbers of XP machines were hit by WannaCry and other malware, and Microsoft issued an emergency patch even though it had officially dropped all support. There’s no telling how many of those machines have malware infections today, but the number is undoubtedly huge.

Owners of Windows 7 machines should avoid the same fate. If you do nothing, the risks will grow rapidly. Infections of those computers will give attackers a foothold in your network, making the rest of it dangerously vulnerable. The ship is sinking, and the time to leave is now.

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Requirements for Windows 10

Most desktop computers from ten years ago will have trouble running Windows 10. A machine needs to meet Microsoft’s requirements in order to upgrade.

The machine should have Windows 7 SP1 installed. If it isn’t, do that upgrade first.

Next, check that it meets or exceeds the following:

  • A processor with a speed of at least 1 GHz.
  • 1 gigabyte of RAM for the 32-bit version, or 2 gigabytes for the 64-bit version.
  • 16 gigabytes of disk space (20 for the 64-bit OS).
  • A DirectX 9 graphics card with a WDDM 1.0 driver, or newer.
  • A monitor with at least 800 x 600 pixels.

If your computer can run Windows 7, it probably meets these criteria already. While it’s not specifically required, a high-speed Internet connection which is available all the time is necessary for a good Windows 10 experience, especially for the initial installation.

If your computer doesn’t meet those standards, it’s really time to get a newer one anyway. They aren’t very demanding by today’s measures.

Always run a full backup before doing a system update.

What happens after January 2020?

You can continue using Windows 7 after January 14, 2020, but it’s a bad idea. A couple of days or weeks may not be a problem, but the risk will grow steadily over time.

If your machine is running the old OS, you’ve probably been seeing warnings on it that it’s approaching its end of life. You should take them seriously.

It’s not just that new security problems won’t be fixed. It’s that everyone knows they won’t. A big, bright target has been painted over every Windows 7 system. The villains are undoubtedly looking for vulnerabilities now but waiting for the end-of-life date to take advantage of them. New malware exploiting those vulnerabilities will follow soon afterward. It will include ransomware, cryptomining, botnets, backdoors, and all the other threats that unpatched systems face.

Keeping Windows 7 machines in service will increase the risk to all the computers on a network. Even if there’s just one machine and it doesn’t do anything important, it offers a stepping stone for attacking the rest of the network. It’s much easier to infect computers once the attacker has gotten past the firewall.

Support for the Windows 7 versions of most applications will cease. Vulnerabilities in them will go unpatched. Criminals will find even more opportunities for infecting machines by taking advantage of these weaknesses.

Is there any way to keep getting updates?

The truth is that you will be able to get updates for Windows 7 after January 14. You’ll have to pay for it, though. The option is called Extended Security Updates. Microsoft calls it a “last resort option.” It will include only updates classified as “critical” or “important,” and only “if and when available.” In other words, Microsoft is guaranteeing nothing except what it won’t do. There won’t be any new features or non-security updates.

The Windows 7 Extended Security Updates are available through CSP providers like Applied Innovations. Updates will be licensed in three 12-month increments. Each one will be more expensive than the one before, and after January 2023 there will be nothing more. Many will wait because in the past Microsoft issued an unscheduled emergency patch for XP because of WannaCry, but you can’t count on that. You can purchase your first year of ESU from Applied Innovations Today.

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Prices are per machine, and the pricing depends on the variant of Windows 7 the machine is running. Updates for embedded systems work a little differently. If you have them, you should check with your OEM.

What are the options?

It’s necessary to do something, but many options are available. It’s rather late to do an assessment, but weighing the alternatives is better than panic.

Buying (if necessary) and installing the upgrade is the most obvious solution. It gives you access to the latest OS features, and it will run all the current Windows applications. If your computer meets the requirements, you have a fast Internet connection, and the upgrade won’t break anything, this is the best choice. The changes aren’t hard to learn. If your Internet connection isn’t very fast and reliable, you might want to find a faster one for installing the upgrade.

Paying for Extended Security Updates makes sense if there are serious objections to upgrading and you have volume licensing, this is a usable stopgap solution. Remember that only the most important security problems will be fixed, and the cost will keep going up. It gives you time to figure out a more permanent answer.

Quarantine the computer. You may need to run a few Windows 7 machines for special purposes, such as testing software. You can get a reasonable level of safety by keeping them away from the Internet or behind an extremely strict firewall. Those machines shouldn’t run anything but the software that has to stay on them. No email, Web server, or browser.

Run Windows 7 on a virtual machine. This adds another level of safety to quarantining. You can reload the operating system environment every time you run the VM, so any malware that gets through won’t stay around for long. This doesn’t eliminate the risk, but a combination of precautions could bring it down to a reasonable level.

Jump to another operating system. Alternatives to Windows exist, and some may even work better. Specifically:

  • Linux puts low demands on system resources, and it doesn’t cost anything (though you may want to buy a distribution with support). It’s not as easy to use as Windows, and many commercial applications don’t run on it.
  • MacOS is a reliable operating system. You’ll need to buy a new computer, and Macs tend to be expensive. It runs most applications that run on Windows, and the user experience is similar.
  • Chrome OS runs on Chromebooks, which don’t cost much. It requires an always-on Internet connection, and it’s best suited for lightweight work. It won’t run most Windows applications.

Keeping your computer systems up to date is a complicated task. Applied Innovations is ready to help with consultation or fully managed services. Get in touch with us to learn more about what we offer.

About Jeff Collins

Experience and Expertise make the difference when searching for top cloud providers. Appliedi has provided managed cloud services since 1999.

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