For months, the deadline loomed on users’ computer screens throughout various office environments.
Windows 7-based computers informed their users that official support from Microsoft would end on January 14, 2020.
Considered more stable and reliable and with improved security over Microsoft’s previous operating systems, Windows 7 became a reliable operating system within corporate environments. For workplaces that were hesitant to upgrade to Windows 10 in recent years, Windows 7 was still good enough.
Roughly a decade after Windows 7’s initial release, with official support from Microsoft ending, businesses should consider their next steps, especially since data show that there are still plenty of Windows 7 computers still in use. More than 32% of desktop and laptops computers that visited netmarketshare.com’s network of hosted websites in January 2020 were running Windows 7. It may not be easy to just let go.
“This is a necessary phase in the life of an operating system,” explained Zedd Epstein, a veteran IT engineer for cloud-focused data company Plex. “Windows 7 was released in 2009, two years after the first iPhone. There are over 50 million lines of code in Windows 7. All of that text has to run your computer with minimal errors. By phasing out support for Windows 7, it can move the teams of people working on keeping all of that code up to date and secure to Windows 8 and 10, where more of their users are.”
Large companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google may have gigantic development teams, but they don’t have infinite resources to keep supporting legacy products, Epstein said.
“Continuing to patch older operating systems reduces the available teams to fight the ever growing cybersecurity threats on their current operating systems,” he said. “This wasn’t a surprise announcement. I’ve personally been working on moving companies off of Windows 7 since 2016.”
While a Windows 7 computer can still be used for a number of tasks, Epstein stated that it is safest for these computers to be kept off the Internet, lest they become tools that can be used by outside parties to attack that computer and access its data.
“The only thing I can recommend is taking Windows 7 machines off of the Internet. The next time a major security vulnerability is found in Windows 7, it will be able to be used on a Windows 7 computer, forever.” said Epstein. “That could mean that an attacker can take over your computer, see all of your photos, documents, and Internet history without you knowing.”
If you or your company absolutely need to continue using Windows 7, Microsoft has announced that extended service updates can be purchased through its Cloud Solution Provider program, which will continue to offer Windows 7 updates that will be sold on a per-device basis with the price increasing each year. This will buy users support through January, 2023, at which point an operating system upgrade will be unavoidable.
Epstein said the update program from Microsoft can help a business in the short term, but also advised that they still work to transition to a more modern operating system.
“If, for some reason, a company has something incompatible with a newer operating system, such as a specialty printer, they may want to pay for the additional updates while their device manufacturer is working on making it compatible,” he said. “I would still advise that any machine running Windows 7 is isolated from both the local network and the Internet. This is a stop gap while you are waiting on a permanent fix.”
For users biting the bullet and making the switch to Windows 10, they can use programs like the freeware program Classic Shell (www.classicshell.net) to make Windows 10 look and feel like Windows 7, emulating the look and feel of the legacy operating system.
Another option might be migration to other operating systems such as Google’s ChromeOS or Apple’s macOS, which come pre-installed on certain computers and devices, and various Linux distributions, which are available for free and are supported by the organizations that created them as well as by user communities.
Whatever upgrade path your business decides, it may take some time to get used to. But your computers won’t tempt fate with online security as continuing to use Windows 7 will do.