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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 13 Issue 10
October 2019
Windows 7 Support Will End on January 14, 2020 -- It's Time to Move to Windows 10

The problem

If your computer runs Microsoft Windows 7, you should be aware that on January 14, 2020 Microsoft will end support for that version of the operating system, which is about 11 weeks from today.

What should you do about this? What are your options?

Note: Don't confuse Microsoft Windows (the lower-level operating system) with Microsoft Office (the higher-level software package which includes programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.).

If you use a Macintosh, stay tuned for my separate advice on whether to upgrade your Mac to the newest macOS 10.15 Catalina operating system.

Don't panic

Just because Windows 7 will no longer be supported, your computer will not suddenly drop dead or cease to function on January 15. It simply means that Microsoft will no longer be issuing security and feature updates for Windows 7 after mid-January.

It's also remotely possible that something important may come up to motivate Microsoft to release a future Windows 7 update someday. It's not unprecedented -- After Windows XP support ended in April 2014, three isolated XP updates were released between May 2014 and May 2019 to address certain specific and widespread security threats. On the other hand, this is so unusual that it should not be a factor in what you decide to do about Windows 7.

The short version of my advice

As in April 2014 when support for Windows XP was ending, my advice today is the same:

While you can probably postpone this for a few months, most users should plan on moving from Windows 7 to Windows 10 in the next 6 to 10 months.

However, if the exception explained below applies to you (law firm, medical practice, etc.), you should not wait. You should move to Windows 10 as soon as you reasonably can.

What are your options?

Your most obvious options are:
  • Keep your computer and continue to use Windows 7. In other words, do nothing.
  • Keep your computer and upgrade it to Windows 10.
  • Replace your computer with a new Windows 10 machine.
Other options (like switching to a Macintosh or Linux computer, or moving to a tablet) are too complicated for most users to consider.

Keep your computer and continue to use Windows 7

This is the simplest option, and in the short term not much will change. However, in the long term (i.e., over the following months and years) there are some issues and risks that will probably increase with time:
  • Your computer will probably become more vulnerable to security threats, including malware (viruses and other infections) and hackers, putting your data (and productivity) at risk.
  • Some of the software that you're using (including antivirus, security, bookkeeping, etc.) will probably drop support for Windows 7 at some point.
  • In particular, if it hasn't already, your web browser (e.g., Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, etc.) will also eventually stop getting updates for Windows 7, which in turn may cause a slowly increasing number of websites to warn you that your browser isn't supported or compatible, at some point you may start to have problems with some websites, and others may eventually stop working altogether.
  • You may also find that newer hardware devices (monitors, printers, scanners, smartphones, tablets, etc.) may also not work with your older computer.
For most users who do not store other people's sensitive information on their computers, staying with Windows 7 will probably be acceptable for a few months, but eventually they will most likely need to move to Windows 10.

However, if you run a law firm, medical practice, or have some other reason for storing sensitive information about other people on your computer, then you have a legal responsibility to use up-to-date software and security to protect that information as best you can, so staying on Windows 7 after its support ends is not an option.

Keep your computer and upgrade it to Windows 10

There are a number of things to consider before trying this option:
  • Compatibility: Does your computer meet the system requirements for Windows 10? If not, could its hardware (e.g., RAM, internal hard drive, etc.) be upgraded to meet those requirements, and what would that cost?
  • Backup: Are you prepared to do a complete system backup, in case something goes wrong with the upgrade?
  • Research software and devices: See below under "Replace your computer with a new Windows 10 machine" for details.
  • Upgrade time and effort: Since this will probably take many hours of somewhat complicated work, are you prepared to spend the time (or pay someone else) to do the operating system upgrade, and then deal with any unforeseen issues (software and hardware compatibility, driver updates, etc.) that might come up?
  • Still an old computer: Since Windows 7 was released in October 2009, retail sales ended in October 2014, and other sources closed in October 2016, at best your Windows 7 computer is somewhere between 3 and 5 years old, possibly older. So, even if you could upgrade your computer to Windows 10, it will still be an older, slower computer, and one or more components are likely to wear out sooner than if you bought a new computer.
Replace your computer with a new Windows 10 machine

This is probably the best approach, either now (especially if some of the issues above apply to your situation) or within the next few months.

As with any move to a new computer or operating system, I recommend:
  • Research software: Start by looking at all of the software that you use on your current Windows 7 computer, and then make a list of all of the software that you will need to use on your new Windows 10 machine. Then, for each program, look for any potential Windows 10 compatibility issues, and then research how to solve them. I suggest a combination of checking each software company's website, contacting them directly, and searching online. Your goal is to answer the following questions: Does the version of that program that you're using now also work under Windows 10? If not, is there a newer version that will work, and is it free or does it cost something? If there is no newer version that will work, is there some other, similar program that you could switch to?
  • Research devices: Make a list of all of the peripheral devices that you use with your current Windows 7 computer (mouse, keyboard, monitor, printer, scanner, iPhone, iPad, Android phone, tablet, etc.), and then research the same compatibility questions.
  • Cost and scope of project: Remember that the cost to move to a new computer is much more than the purchase cost of the hardware. It is also your time and effort to deal with all of the software to be installed and set up, data to copy over, settings to adjust, and the many other issues that will probably come up.
If you can't do all of this on your own, have someone you know and trust either help you with this, or do it for you with your input.

When will support for Windows 10 end?

Up to and including Windows 8.1 (for which support is scheduled to end in January 2023), Microsoft had two support periods for its operating systems:
  • "Mainstream support," which generally ended 5 years after the initial release (with the notable exception of Windows XP where it ran 7.5 years) and
  • "Extended support," which ended after another 5 years.
With the release of Windows 10 in July 2015, Microsoft changed to a rolling, open-ended support approach.

In general Microsoft releases new "feature update" versions of Windows 10 twice each year, and then supports each version for about 18 months. For example, the current Windows 10 version 1903 was released May 21, 2019, and its "end of service" date will be December 8, 2020.

In other words, it appears that Microsoft will support Windows 10 indefinitely, as long as you install the ongoing updates to keep up with the current version.

Where to go from here
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2019 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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