It’s not exactly the Windows Update to end all updates, but it’s close. Windows 7 machines that downloaded the most recent round of official updates got one that doesn’t do much beyond telling you to stop using Windows 7. The way it’s supposed to work is that computers running Windows 7 will start getting pop-up notices beginning April 18 letting them know that all support for Windows 7 will end on Jan. 14, 2020.
The pop-up notice will provide a link to additional information on Microsoft’s website letting you know your upgrade options, including buying new computers, which is what the company really wants you to do. While the notices aren’t supposed to appear until April, some users are reporting seeing them already. When the notice does appear, you can check a box in the lower left corner telling the alert not to appear again.
This is Microsoft’s gentle (but not subtle) means of telling you that it’s high time to stop fooling around and update Windows. But by now, you know this. Problem is, you’re one of hundreds of millions of places where Windows 7 is still running, and while there are some instances in which you can stick with it, in nearly every case you can’t. It’s reaching its end of life, and continuing to use it after next January will mean using a system that’s more and more vulnerable to security risks.
Why So Many Still Haven’t Upgraded to Windows 10
So why haven’t you upgraded your Windows 7 machines? There are a number of reasons, a couple of which are legitimate.
- You just haven’t gotten around to it. Procrastination will eventually create headaches as new software won’t work. Worse, you’ll be vulnerable to an ever wider range of attacks and exploits, and you may not be able to do anything about it. You need to move forward.
- You’re concerned that your applications won’t work. Windows 10 has a compatibility mode that will tell your applications that you’re running Windows 7 (or XP or whatever), and it works quite well. But for the most part, commercial applications will work fine. Some custom applications may have trouble, but it’s unlikely. If it is a problem, consider upgrading to Windows 8.1 to see if that works. Meanwhile, update your custom apps.
- You don’t want to spend the money to update. You could have upgraded to Windows 10 when it was free. However, you may still be able to perform a clean install of Windows 10 and use your existing Windows 7 installation key. Microsoft enabled this over a year ago, and it may still work.
- Your computer won’t run Windows 10. There are a few computers, including my ancient HP xw8200 workstation, that cannot run Windows 10. All you can do in this case is continue with Windows 7 and hope for the best, or you can run a different operating system such as Linux. Or you can replace your old computer with a new one. I did both with a new HP workstation, and I’m getting a copy of Linux that understands my SCSI controllers on the old one.
- You have an enterprise license. You can arrange for continued support for some business installations of Windows 7. This is a feature of some enterprise contracts with Microsoft, and you may be able to add this support if you don’t already have it.
- You have embedded Windows 7 and can’t upgrade. Embedded Windows in ATMs, gas pumps, POS devices, medical devices and other embedded applications aren’t subject to the end-of-life limits for other Windows 7 installations. Microsoft has an FAQ about this.
Considering the rate at which internet of things (IoT) devices running Windows are spreading, that last point might end up being the largest installed base of Windows 7 still extant. And, like everything else in the IoT world, this means that security issues will follow embedded Windows until the device makers start following the new federal guidelines and make their devices so they can be updated.
From a business perspective, running on an old, unsupported operating system is pretty hard to defend. Windows 7 came out 10 years ago, and you’ve known for at least five years that the operating system’s days were numbered. You’ve known the exact end of support date for over a year now. And you’ve known for longer than that about Microsoft’s plan to stop supporting Windows 7.
Even if you run a very small business, the investment required to keep your technology current is fairly minimal. It’s probably going to cost less to buy a new computer than it will cost you for business lunches over the course of a month, and unlike lunch, newer technology will improve your efficiency and also reduce your risks. You should be budgeting for hardware replacements over the course of three or four years for each machine, anyway.
The best way to think about the patch that will start nagging you to update Windows in April is with thanks. You’ve been reminded in enough time that even if you have a lengthy procurement process, you still have time to either update Windows or to update your computer with a new one. Neither path is particularly arduous, especially compared with the pain of recovering from a breach that happened when you didn’t take action.