The end of Windows 7 could carry risks for its users

The inevitable is coming: Windows 7 will reach its end of life (EOL) on Jan. 14, 2020.

Even though some customers can still get paid security updates for a while after that, the overall lack of updates and security patches will likely provide an irresistible target for cybercriminals and hackers. That means more malware will be targeted at vulnerable Windows 7 users.

According to Net Market Share’s December 2018 data, 40.8% of computer users were still using Windows 7 compared to a modest 36.3% using Windows 10 — and still far ahead of Windows 8.1 and Windows XP. That ranks Windows 7 as the most popular platform even after a decade on the market.

Although there isn’t a lot of time left to move to Windows 10, planning the transition now can help you avoid panic later. The IT professionals at Kraft Technology Group are prepared to upgrade small and mid-sized businesses still using Windows 7 to a more suitable option.

Windows 7 chronology

Microsoft introduced Windows 7 in 2009, replacing Windows Vista and drawing 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 receive free security upgrades but no functional upgrades. All support was scheduled to end in 2020, but customer pressure made Microsoft yield slightly.

Extended Security Updates (ESUs) will be available to some business customers through January 2023. 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, and it’s no longer possible to get a new license for it. The only upgrade route is to Windows 10.

The significance of EOL

Every version of an operating system (OS) has a lifecycle. It’s supported for a while, then a newer version replaces it. The manufacturer, understandably, wants to focus its resources on the latest release, so it eventually stops supporting the 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 EOL, when it drops all support for the general public. The time from initial release to EOL has generally been about ten years.

The announcement of a product’s EOL 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 temporary fix for people who would encounter major problems by upgrading in the next year.

Microsoft will have a sharply shrunken user base to support as a result. 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 will also have less 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 difficult time. If they can’t keep 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 risk losing security features currently protecting their systems and data.

It’s not difficult to imagine that hackers are fully aware of the potential vulnerabilities when Windows 7 sunsets. They will work to identify and breach 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 cybercrime is to take proactive measures now.

Other Windows versions

The situation is similar to the one with Windows XP several years ago. XP was a solid, very popular OS. Vista was unpopular with many users, many of whom 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, but extended support lasted until 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 OS. 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, like XP, 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 , “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 stated. “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, including:

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 OS and some business leaders may want to consider the possibility of working with the product beyond the 2020 EOL date.

It may come as a bit 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 ESU, the after-drop-dead deal will add support through January 2023, according to Microsoft.

Additional Windows 7 support is expected to be sold on one-year deals and businesses can expect to pay a premium. This 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 systems, and the latest third-party software for Windows focuses on it. Microsoft has promised mainstream support until Oct. 13, 2020, and extended support until Oct. 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 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 also follows Internet standards better than its predecessor.

Overall, having Windows’ most up-to-date functionality, productivity, user interface, and outstanding security measures, is beneficial. 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. Give us a call to discuss your options.

© 2019

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