Support for Windows 7 ends on January 14, 2020. In just a few days, this version of Windows will reach the end of its official life, and focus will wholly shift to the modern variants of the operating system.
If you have questions on your lips as Windows 7 nears its end, and are concerned about the risks running it beyond this deadline, then this article is for you.
We take a look at the looming Windows 7 retirement, why you should really upgrade, and what are the risks of not doing so. We also outline your best options depending on your use case, and guide you to what you should be doing next.
Time to go.
What is happening to Windows 7?
Microsoft is all set to close shutters on Windows 7. Possibly the most popular version of Windows will reach its end-of-support data next week. After nearly five years of trying to get these users onboard its latest desktop OS, the company is finally ready to pull the plug.
Of course, this is nothing new.
Microsoft has traveled this road before, with Windows XP. And as was the case back then, the software titan will stop all support for Windows 7 after the deadline.
What this means is that this operating system will no longer be supported with patches, fixes, and security updates — save for a select few cases. One of which is Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). This antivirus solution will continue to get signature updates beyond this date. Same holds true for any major security threats that surface. You may recall that Windows XP surprisingly received a rare update when the WannaCry attack hit computers across the globe.
But for the most part, we should not expect Microsoft to pay any attention to this version of the OS.
Come Tuesday, Windows 7, and users running it, will be on their own.
Risks of using Windows 7 beyond retirement
Windows 7 will not suddenly stop working on January 14. And if your system is up to date, you will not be any less secure than you are today. At least, not in the short term.
The only major change will be that newer versions of some of your favorite software may stop working. And Microsoft may bombard you with notifications to upgrade your system. Plus, of course, Microsoft Support will not be able to provide you with help.
So, technically, while you can continue to run Windows 7 after the platform reaches end of support, we wouldn’t recommend clinging to it for longer than it is absolutely necessary. And the reason for that is to safeguard yourself against malware and hackers.
Fact is, hundreds of millions of users still rock Windows 7. Recent estimates hint that around 33% of users are running this decade-old operating system. These are people and companies that are reluctant to make the inevitable upgrade to Windows 10.
And they will suddenly be in the crosshairs of cybercriminals, who will see Windows 7 as an open game and target it with malicious attacks. For starters, not only will you run into compliance and compatibility issues, but your computer will become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses.
A good antivirus may help, but the biggest threats may come in the form of ransomware. PC users still running Windows 7 will soon be significantly more at risk of having their computers infected with ransomware, and their data stolen or hardware rendered unusable.
You can bet your sweet lunch money that hackers and ransomware authors are all geared up and waiting for the clock to tick. With Microsoft no longer fixing vulnerabilities in Windows 7, users running it beyond retirement, will be sitting ducks.
The only way forward is to make the move to a newer, supported version of Windows.
What are my options?
The road ahead is less foggy for enterprises and large corporations that have an estate of machines running Windows 7 and are not able to move away from it. They have the option of writing Microsoft a huge cheque to keep the lights going for the next three years, by way of custom support.
Redmond calls these paid patches Extended Security Updates (ESU), and they are available to organizations for the next 3 years. Smaller businesses can also sign up for these. Expect to pay a pretty penny for these, though.
But the situation is not as clear for the man on the street.
For these users, a Windows 7 desktop or laptop is capable of perfectly good work. And many of these folks feel that they are being forced to upgrade, or buy new hardware, for no meaningful perceived benefits — not when they have been using their trusty old computers without any issues.
If, for some reason, you absolutely must run Windows 7, then there are ways.
Try to keep your PC isolated from the outside world. Your old PC, locked down and disconnected from the internet, can continue to hum along with Windows 7 onboard. Another choice route is to run Windows 7 in a virtual machine. Any security issue that arises will be contained within that virtual environment, and this will be safer than booting into Windows 7 directly.
Download this free virtualization software called VirtualBox, and install Windows 7 in a VM.
Or better yet, finally bite the bullet and hop onto Windows 10.
Why should I upgrade to Windows 10?
The question is why not? Windows 10 is, for all intents and purposes, the best version of Windows yet. With improved support for newer hardware, the apps available for download from the Microsoft Store, better gaming performance, and an enriched feature set, this truly is the way.
Yes, you may miss out on certain classic options that have not been ported to the new OS, but that is a small price to pay for all the advantages you are getting.
Speaking of prices, it may come as a surprise, but you are can still upgrade to Windows 10 for free.
So keen was Microsoft to recruit the world to Windows 10, that it made the operating system available as a free upgrade the first year. As long as these users had the necessary hardware and a valid license, they could install Windows 10, and avoid paying the amount Microsoft charged for upgrades.
Officially that offer expired a long time ago, but unofficially is a different story. You can still upgrade from Windows 7 and 8 to the latest operating system by using the Media Creation Tool.
Which is exactly what we will do next.
How to upgrade?
Let’s start with the most immediate and important thing that you must do if you are running Windows 7. Ensure that there is no data on the device that would be lost in the event of a disaster. Make copies of all your important information and store them in a safe place.
Next, go to the Windows 10 download page, and click on the Download tool now button. Fire it up and then click Upgrade this PC now to begin the process.
The Windows Media Creation Tool first checks the eligibility of your device, and confirms that it has no major hardware or software issues. And as long as you have a properly licensed version of the operating system, it will upgrade you to the equivalent version of Windows 10. Windows 7 Home users will receive an upgrade to Windows 10 Home, while Windows 7 Pro users will be upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.
Upgrading this way, as opposed to installing from scratch, also nets you another benefit. That being, all your compatible programs continue to work as they did before.
Simply click through the wizard, and your installation should be activated automatically. If not, then wait for your PC to reboot, and manually activate your copy of Windows 10 from the Settings app. Either way, it should be a simple and straightforward process.
We are on the cusp of a major milestone, as Windows 7 sails into the sunset. It may be arguably the most favorite OS ever created, but its time has finally come. Yes, you may have to hustle a little to upgrade, but the move to Windows 10 brings with an array of improvements.
So long Windows 7, and thanks for the memories!