Microsoft is ending mainstream Windows 7 support tomorrow, January 13th. Owners of notebooks and desktops running it shouldn’t be worried since they’ll still get security fixes though.
Microsoft announced back in April 2014 that it’d be wrapping up mainstream support for Windows 7, the operating system that came installed on notebooks and desktops before it debuted Windows 8 back in 2012. Windows 7 originally debuted with its streamlined task bar, fresh wallpapers and support for jump list shortcuts back in 2009.
Microsoft is ending mainstream support for Windows 7 five years after the operating system debuted, just as it did with Windows Vista. Windows 7 runs on the overwhelming majority of all Windows machines. The operating system was so popular, that even today some are still recommending it over Windows 8.1 for those creating work horses and gaming machines that don’t feature touch.
With so many people on the operating system and Microsoft’s system so completely complicated, it’s easy to assume that ending mainstream Windows 7 support is a bad thing. That’s not necessarily true though.
After an operating system is released and installed on users’ computers, Microsoft makes what are called Service Pack updates. Essentially, these service pack updates add new features, include all security upgrades and are free of charge. Microsoft increases the amount of time users have to get upgrades and software fixes every time they release a service pack. In reality, Windows 7 mainstream support actually ended back in 2013. People who hadn’t updated to Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 already stopped getting security updates a long time ago. It’s only with the addition of Service Pack 1 that Windows 7 was still in mainstream support.
Most assume that the end of mainstream support means Microsoft will no longer update Windows 7, but that’s not entirely accurate. Mainstream support ending means that there’ll be no more updates containing big design changes and feature additions. It doesn’t mean that Windows 7 users will no longer get essential security updates and fixes.
Microsoft doesn’t plan to completely stop updating Windows 7 with the Service Pack 1 update until five years from tomorrow. That’s January 13 2020. By then it’s unlikely that Windows 7 will have as big of an installation base as it does today. Windows 7 could very well have been the last Windows operating system to use Microsoft’s traditional pay-to-upgrade model. Rumors are that Windows 8 users will get Windows 10 at a reduced cost or even free, making this a non-problem for them when that operating system starts to show its age.
Users who’d like to receive security updates past 2020 for Windows 7 will need to upgrade to a later operating system. As Windows 7 and Windows 8 share system requirements, it’d be logical that users upgrade to Windows 8 or anything else that comes later. At some point, their machine might not be upgradable due to system requirements, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Now it might seem a little harsh that Microsoft has any plans at all to discontinue support for Windows 7, but it’s something that has to be done. When the company wraps up support on Windows 7 the operating system will have been updated for 11 years straight. Maintaining Windows 7 takes away resources from newer operating systems that might offer better features. To be clear, it’s also a good way for Microsoft to make one last push for users to update to its latest and greatest software.
Uses who’d like to upgrade away from Windows 7 can do so now by purchasing a Windows 8.1 upgrade from Microsoft’s website or at a retail store. Mainstream support for Windows 8.1 isn’t scheduled to end until January 9, 2018. It won’t stop receiving updates until January 9, 2023. It’s a better idea to wait until Microsoft releases Windows 10 later this year. Windows 8.1 costs $120 now. That’s a lot to pay for an update that’s about to be replaced itself.