The inevitable is coming. Windows 7 will reach its end of life on January 14, 2020. Some customers will be able to get paid security updates after that, but it’s basically over. There isn’t a lot of time left to move to Windows 10. Planning the transition now will avoid the need to panic later.
According to Net Market Share’s December 2018 data, 40.86 percent were still using Windows 7 compared to a modest 36.37 percent engaged in Windows 10. Trailing the two leaders, Windows 8.1 saw a mere 5.07 percent and Windows XP stood at 4.08 percent. That means Windows 7 ranked as the most popular platform after a decade on the market.
The Windows 7 end of life (EOL) is not a surprise for IT companies because Microsoft already cut off mainstream support four years ago. The imminent Windows 7 EOL leaves small and mid-sized companies weighing their options about best next steps. Fortunately, the IT professionals at KTG are prepared to upgrade small and mid-sized businesses using Windows 7 to a suitable option.
Windows 7 chronology
Microsoft introduced Windows 7 in 2009, replacing Windows Vista and getting better reviews than its predecessor. Mainstream support for it ended in January 2015. It went into extended support at that point, meaning that registered users continued to get free security upgrades but no functional upgrades. All support was scheduled to end in 2020, but customer pressure made Microsoft yield a little.
After January 14, through January 2023, Extended Security Updates (ESUs) will be available to some business customers. Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise customers can get ESUs by paying for them. The cost of the service will increase each year. Other users will get no security patches after January 2020.
Windows 8 isn’t an upgrade option. It’s no longer possible to get a new license for it. The only upgrade route is to Windows 10.
The significance of end of life
Every version of an operating system has a lifecycle. It’s supported for a period of time, then a newer version replaces it. The manufacturer wants to focus its resources on the latest release, so it eventually stops supporting older ones. Microsoft’s standard procedure with Windows releases is to drop “mainstream” support at some point, meaning that the only updates after that are security fixes, and eventually to reach “end of life,” when it drops all support for the general public. The time from initial release to end of life has generally been about ten years.
The end-of-life announcement is an important signal. The paid security updates aren’t available to most users, and even when they are, they’re not a very satisfactory solution. They’re only a stopgap for people who would encounter major problems by upgrading in the next year.
As soon as that date goes by, there will be a huge number of Windows 7 users who are no longer getting security patches. That’s an irresistible target for criminals. The amount of malware distributed to attack it will increase sharply. Security patches aren’t a complete solution, so even systems that get the ESUs will be at greater risk than before.
Microsoft will have a sharply shrunken user base to support. They’ll get fewer bug reports, so the support team won’t find out about vulnerabilities as quickly. While Microsoft promises continued security support, it’s hard to imagine that it won’t become a lower priority for Windows 7 than for currently supported software. The number of people complaining about Windows 7 problems will be tiny compared with the ones who want every problem with Windows 10 fixed.
Third-party software developers won’t have much incentive to keep supporting their Windows 7 products. Their applications will be subject to bugs and vulnerabilities and getting fixes for them will become harder.
Organizations that need to be HIPAA compliant will have an especially hard time of it. If they can’t keep all their software patched, they will become increasingly vulnerable to spyware, ransomware, and other threats. Having to report a data breach under HIPAA isn’t a situation any covered entity wants to face.
CEOs and decision-makers who fail to make the shift before the Windows 7 EOL date risk losing security features currently protecting systems and data. We live in a world where hackers are persistent in their efforts to find vulnerable business systems that they can pluck like low-hanging fruit.
It’s not difficult to recognize that hackers are fully aware of potential vulnerabilities when the Windows 7 sunsets. They will be up all night identifying and breaching systems with faulty security. Think of the Windows EOL date like a massive power blackout and hackers are like looters taking advantage of the crisis to break into your business and steal. The best way to avoid disruption and cyber theft is to take proactive measures now.
Other Windows versions: a perspective
The situation is similar to the one with Windows XP several years ago. XP was a solid, very popular operating system. Vista was unpopular with many users, who stayed with XP as long as they could. Microsoft stopped selling XP in 2008, but it allowed some exceptions until 2010. Mainstream support ended in April 2009, and extended support in April 2014. Many users didn’t leave even after that. There was so much inertia that Microsoft released two additional security updates, in May 2014 and May 2017.
Millions of computers still use Windows XP, not counting dedicated devices built around the operating system. Some vendors still maintain security software for it, but its users live at high risk. The systems routinely get hit by ransomware and other harmful code.
Windows 7 likewise found itself with a less popular successor, Windows 8. Mainstream support for Windows 8.1 ended in January 2018, and it’s in extended support until January 2023. There is no Microsoft-sanctioned way to buy or upgrade to any version of Windows 8 today, except by acquiring a computer that already has it installed.
There’s a good reason that such a low percentage of users work with Windows 8. It was widely considered a disaster. According to The Inquirer, “Users and administrators adamantly demanded to step back to Windows 7 desktops. Not only was the new user interface of Windows 8 unwelcoming, but the removal of simple features such as the Start button sent users into a tizzy.”
The piece goes on to explain that although users freaked out over the Windows 8 product, migrating to a user-friendly Windows 10 option could be favorable.
“Adopting Windows 10 can be as simple as upgrading an existing Windows 7 computer based on your Microsoft licensing agreement, but in many cases, a device refresh may be necessary due to hard drive space, system resources or physical capabilities,” The Inquirer article states. “From a financial perspective, the cost of a new computer — plus IT staff setup time and lost user productivity during the transition — comes at a significant price.”
But there are other options on the market that decision-makers may want to consider. These include the following.
Apple Devices: If Macs appear a more suitable product for your evolving business goals, the Windows 7 EOL may offer a logical time to transition.
BYOD: Some companies are shifting to “bring your own device” workforces. Again, this may be a time to discuss the possibility with your IT consultant.
Although migrating to Windows 10 is expected to be a reasonably positive transition, there’s little argument that Windows 7 was a solid product. It continues to be a highly regarded operating system and some business leaders may want to consider the possibility of working with the product beyond the 2020 EOL date.
It may come as something of a surprise, but Microsoft reportedly may provide support for some organizations beyond the 2020 EOL date, according to The Inquirer, Computer World, and others.
Called Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU), the after-drop-dead deal will add support through January 2023, according to Microsoft. “While many of you are already well on your way in deploying Windows 10, we understand that everyone is at a different point in the upgrade process,” Computer World reported.
Additional Windows 7 support is expected to be sold on one-year deals and businesses can expect to pay a premium. The move is viewed as a costly stop-gap measure for organizations that are falling behind a reasonable migration timeline.
The advantages of upgrading
Windows 10 is Microsoft’s most up-to-date, best-supported version of the operating system. The latest third-party software for Windows focuses on it. Microsoft has promised mainstream support until October 13, 2020, and extended support until October 14, 2025.
Developers are no longer paying much attention to Windows 7. New applications are likely not to run on it, or to have problems if they do. New devices won’t come with Windows 7 drivers.
Aside from continued patches, Windows 10 provides other security benefits. Downloaded Universal Windows apps run in a sandbox environment, limiting their ability to affect the system. They get only the privileges which they request. For example, an application that doesn’t need the camera shouldn’t request permission to use it.
Windows 10 comes with a completely new Web browser, Microsoft Edge, which is more modern and safer than Internet Explorer. It follows Internet standards better than its predecessor.
Your outfit will enjoy the most up to date functionality, productivity, user interface, and outstanding security measures. Upgrades have the potential to interact with important analytics, machine learning, and other emerging technological advancements.
At KTG, our team of IT professionals understands the inherent benefits that migration to Windows 10 and other options can bring to the table. Migrating to Windows 10 or a suitable option is not a nuisance; it’s a business opportunity.
Windows 7 EOL Presents An Opportunity To Develop A Uniform Process
Consider for a moment that your organization has developed protocols and processes that help it maximize productivity and profitability. Those might include anything from a manufacturing assembly line to information sharing to HR policies. Just about everything a successful outfit does helps improve its standing and bottom line. That being said, systems upgrades are no different and the Windows 7 EOL has presented an opportunity to create uniform policies and protocol.
By working with an IT support consultant, your organization can lean on the experience of a team that upgrades and migrates business systems on a regular basis. You also gain the benefit of working with team members that have an expansive knowledge about goals within your industry and others. That information can prove valuable when applied to your niche.
Conducting a full review and documenting real-time process leaves your organization with a blueprint for future upgrades. Windows 7 is effectively going the way of the dinosaur and its replacement will likely go extinct as well. It’s important to seize this opportunity to reduce the six-month or longer process the next time. These are other benefits your organization can gain by creating a uniform upgrade process in 2019.
Rethinking Windows: It’s all too clear that Windows upgrades are already being planned. Rather than wait and react every time an announcement is made, you can rethink Windows as ongoing service and not just a product. This means empowering your IT support team to maintain a focus on rollouts, tool management and deployment in a highly streamlined fashion. Having that blueprint means formerly onerous tasks occur seamlessly.
IT Support Agility: A major migration from Windows 7 is likely to be a time-consuming task. Part of the reason is that your outfit is starting from scratch and learning about unique aspects of your system, goals and workforce needs. Creating a blueprint for future upgrades eliminates that start from scratch mentality and allows IT support technicians the flexibility to act decisively.
Ongoing Testing: Once your IT team has concluded its testing measures for the Windows 7 EOL migration, it’s important to craft a post-mortem account of challenges and solutions. This will help inform team members about what to anticipate and improve their ability to adapt and overcome.
One of the expected benefits of moving to Windows 10 is that the product allows IT technicians to implement updates to a variety of devices simultaneously. This is expected to improve efficiency by limiting the time spent on tasks that are not directly related to your business’ profit-earning activities.
Why have Businesses Delayed Migration to Windows 10
One reason users have delayed upgrading is that the download is on the order of 3 gigabytes, making it very difficult for machines that have slow connections or data caps. The best alternative in these cases is to acquire a Windows 10 ISO image on a DVD or a USB drive. It’s legal to use one which someone else downloaded, as long as it’s installed with a legitimate authorization key. Be sure it’s from a trustworthy source.
Another reason people have avoided the upgrade is that their computers are too old to meet the Windows 10 hardware requirements. An inexpensive RAM upgrade may be all that is needed. If an upgrade isn’t possible, it may be time to get new computers. The cost saving of continuing to run on an old machine doesn’t justify the risk.
The bottom line is that Windows 7’s time will be up in January 2020. There’s still time to make an orderly transition to Windows 10 without panic.
Organizations that have not already begun the process of migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 10 or another suitable option are strongly advised to contact an IT professional ASAP. Delaying the inevitable could prove expensive one way or another. Keeping computer systems up to date and secure is a complex task, but we can help. Contact us if you’d like to learn more.
Brian Gray, MCP, is the President at Kraft Technology Group, LLC (KTG), an affiliate of KraftCPAs PLLC. Within his role, Brian is responsible for all aspects of service delivery to our clients. Brian has a decade of experience working for managed service providers. He has worked with clients in a variety of industries, including financial services, accounting, legal, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail.