If this is the first time you’re hearing about this, you haven’t been paying attention.
Microsoft officially ended support for Windows 7 on Jan. 14, meaning the company won’t issue any patches or updates for the operating system first introduced in July 2009.
Most importantly, the operating system won’t receive any security patches, putting those still using the operating systems in jeopardy.
A target waiting to be exploited
It may not happen right away, but hackers and cybercriminals will eventually find vulnerabilities to exploit in systems still running Windows 7, said MJ Shoer, a New Hampshire-based consultant to managed service providers and cybersecurity expert.
“As more exploits come to the forefront, organizations that still have Windows 7 out there are going to be vulnerable,” he says. “Those exploits may not happen right away, but you can bet if there’s an operating system out there that isn’t being actively patched and secured, sooner or later those vulnerabilities are going to show up and the bad actors are going to take advantage of them.”
In addition to security patches, Microsoft will no longer offer technical support for Windows 7.
PCs will still work on Windows 7, but will be vulnerable to new and advanced threats that newer systems like Windows 10 can protect against.
There are a few to upgrade to Windows 10, with the most direct option being replacing machines with new models already equipped with the newest operating system.
The system can also be purchased by buying it through licensing programs and deploying it to computers that need it, Shoer said.
“It’s not so much a complicated process,” he says. “It just needs to be a coordinated process.”
Keeping Windows 7 can be costly
Organizations do have the option of paying Microsoft for extended security patches for up to three years, but that can be extremely costly for your company.
Businesses and educators still using the beloved operating system will have to pay $25 per machine per year, but that doubles to $50 in 2021 and again to $100 in 2022.
It’s even more expensive for Windows 7 Pro users. It starts at $50 per machine and doubles to $100 in 2021 and again to $200 in 2022.
“It’s left a lot of people in some pretty rough straits,” Shoer says.
The German government found this out the hard way, as the European nation is facing a bill of $887,000 to Microsoft for extended updates after failing to upgrade its computers in time.
Despite this avenue, it’s not a particularly smart option, according to Shoer.
“I suppose it’s a viable potion, but I don’t think it’s a very smart option,” says Shoer. “I would much prefer to see those dollars invested in appropriate upgrades.”
Don’t be resistant to change
Windows 7 was widely hailed as an easy-to-use and effective operating system, but that was sandwiched between other releases (Windows Vista before and Windows 8 after) that many users criticized as being too bulky and inundated with pointless features.
According to Shower, Windows 8 was “clearly not a successful release by any stretch of the imagination,” whereas Windows 10 was a “home run.”
“People get concerned when you don’t have a consistent track record,” he says.
Some of that concern, however, is simply resistance to change and concern that some applications won’t work on Windows 10.
However, Windows 10 is an operating system that’s better than most before it in terms of compatibility across apps. There are rare cases where a custom app was developed on the platform, but Shoer says he personally hasn’t encountered that.
“I think it’s a comfort factor,” he says. “It works and we feel comfortable, so why should we have to change?”
In many ways, Windows 10 is a return to many things that people have always liked about Windows. Most notably, Microsoft largely ditched the live tiles in favor of a start screen with the familiarity of the start menu.
“I don’t find it so dramatically different from Windows 7,” Shoer says. “It’s different, but I don’t find it to be intuitively different.”