Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Replacing Windows

Upgrading when Support Ends

Planning for Replacement | Windows 10/11 | Alternatives | Preparing to Upgrade

Upgrading Windows when support ends.

When Windows Support is Ending

This page is about your options when a currently-supported version of Windows is about to expire or if you're still running an unsafe version.

While you could continue to use a PC running Windows 8.1, without continued software and security updates, your PC will be at greater risk for viruses and malware. We recommend upgrading to a version of Windows that is still supported.
Microsoft

Some Windows 8.1 hardware is unsupported by Windows 10. Little, if any, legacy hardware will meet the stringent requirements for Windows 11.

Most Windows 8.1 or Windows 8 devices will not meet the hardware requirements for upgrading to Windows 11, as an alternative, compatible Windows 8 and 8.1 PCs can be upgraded to Windows 10 by purchasing and installing a full version of the software. Before investing in a Windows 10 upgrade, please consider that Windows 10 will reach its end of support date on October 14, 2025.
Microsoft

When Windows 10 Support Expires

When Windows 7 support ended, Windows 10 was a viable Microsoft option for most users.

Unfortunately, that will not be true for many Windows 10 computers when support expires even though Windows 11 is a free upgrade from Windows 10.

When Windows 10 hits its end-of-support date in 2025, hundreds of millions of PC owners will have four options, none of them good.

 

When October 2025 rolls around, those devices will have no Microsoft-supported migration path to a newer version. The owners of those perfectly functional PCs, some less than five years old, will instead have the following options:
  • Continue running the unsupported operating system and hope for the best
  • Retire or dispose of the unsupported hardware
  • Install a non-Microsoft operating system, such as Linux
  • Ignore Microsoft's warnings and upgrade to Windows 11 anyway
ZDNet

Older Hardware Likely Unsupported

While Windows 11 could easily run on similar hardware as Windows 10, Microsoft's posted system requirements include the need for a very recent processor plus a TPM 2.0.

If you upgraded to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8.1 it is less likely that your hardware will support a further upgrade to Windows 11 (especially if there is no TPM installed), but not all the dust has settled in that matter.

Many Windows 10 computers, including some that were less than five years old when Windows 11 was launched, are not eligible for upgrade and won't be in 2025.

Even if your hardware has a supported TPM or can be upgraded to include one, the processor requirement will be an issue.

Ignoring Recommended requirements

You can bybass the TPM 2.0 requirements if your hardware has TPM 1.2.

Microsoft advises against doing so when assessed for Windows 11:

This PC doesn't meet the minimum system requirements for running Windows 11 - these requirements help ensure a more reliable and higher quality experience. Installing Windows 11 on this PC is not recommended and may result in compatibility issues. If you proceed with installing Windows 11, your PC will no longer be supported and won't be entitled to receive updates. Damages to your PC due to lack of compatibility aren't covered under the manufacturer warranty.
Microsoft

This work-around could cause you to lose support at any time and you will be unable to return to Windows 10 after only ten days.

A New Windows 11 Computer

Microsoft is encouraging you to purchase a new Windows 11 computer.

A new computer preloaded with Windows 11 is the only way to guarantee support beyond Window 10's end-of-support.

Microsoft's extra hardware requirements do not guarantee security:

While it improves the security of a device, some attacks and malware still work fine on TPM protected systems.
Forbes

Modern Lifecycle Policy

Microsoft's Modern Lifecycle Policy applies to both Windows 10 and Windows 11. The end of support involves more than the stated support lifetime:

  • Specific hardware can be declared unsupported at any time.
  • Failing to install a feature update could end support for your device (Windows 11 support expires 24 months after the release of each feature update).

Unsupported Windows Unsafe to Use

Once support for any version of Windows (or its feature update) has expired, it is dangerous to use because repaired security vulnerabilities can affect older systems that are no longer being updated.

The vulnerabilities are exposed when a current version of a product receives security updates are then tested by malicious hackers against older (unsupported) Windows versions and unpatched systems. Because unsupported operating systems (or any unsupported software) remain unpatched, they are exposed to more threats.

WannaCry hit organizations around the world hard in May 2017, infecting over 200,000 computers in three days. Yet a patch for the exploited EternalBlue vulnerability had been available for a month before the attack.

 

Updates and patches need to be installed immediately and have an automatic setting.
Check Point blog

Unsupported software would not even have access to the updates necessary to protect it.

What Are Your Options?

Once support for your computer's current version of Windows expires, your choices are to:

If your device's hardware won't support a current version of Windows, your options are the same as above except that you need to purchase new hardware if you wish to continue using Windows 10 or 11.

Going Permanently Offline

If you continue to use an unsupported version of Windows (or any operating system), you'll need to take it permanently offline. Be sure to unplug network cables and disable wireless connectivity.

Mission-Critical Purposes

Some people need will really to continue using Windows 7 after support ended…. This will be for mission-critical purposes, such as operating machinery or static equipment. If this is the case you should ensure that the PC is completely isolated from the Internet, with both inbound and outbound connections blocked.
Windows.do

Disadvantages

Being offline has some disadvantages. The wonderful world of the Internet is no longer available to you.

  • Media is restricted to CDs, DVDs and previously-stored content.
  • Online content, like news, email, social media, Netflix and YouTube is no longer available.
  • Transferring files to or from another computer is risky.
  • Subscription software like Microsoft 365 may no longer work.

Perhaps you're happy using your smartphone to view such content, but your computer will be severely limited in what it can safely do.

Exchanging files, even with a secure computer, via a USB-based thumb drive or hard drive is risky. There is always the possibility that you'll transfer malware or viruses that the newer computer is protected from, but which the legacy offline computer is not.

Obtaining New Drivers

If you install new hardware (such as a video card) you'll need to have the drivers to make it work.

Hardware is no longer accompanied by drivers on CDs, DVDs or other media. Being offline, you'll no longer have access to Microsoft's online driver library.

While you may be able to download and copy the driver from a supported Internet-connected computer — if a version exists for your legacy operating system.

This practice can be risky since the legacy computer is no longer receiving security updates.

You can reduce the risk by ensuring that you download only from legitimate sources on another trusted computer.

  1. Download drivers only from the vendor's site (not third-party “driver support” sites).
  2. Be sure the driver is the right one for your system (e.g., 32- or 64-bit and supports your version of Windows) as well as the version of the hardware you're installing.
  3. Run a scan on the download with an updated, currently-supported security suite before copying it to a thumb drive for transfer to the offline device.

If there is no driver for your system, you'll either have to find a device that supports your legacy system or you many need to try Linux (after backing up your data) because it can run better on legacy computers than current versions of Windows.

Security Concerns

Scammers and hackers continue to test old systems for vulnerabilities that were fixed in newer (supported) Windows versions.

Because your computer is no longer receiving security updates or fixes, importing an infected file from another system may cause data loss or your computer to become unusable. Repairs may not be economical.

Repurposing Your Devices

You may be able to repurpose devices for less demanding tasks.

Is it Worth It?

Only you can determine if the risks are worth the value you obtain from an offline computer.

Replacing the obsolete computer with a new computer or installing Linux are options you should consider.

Windows Support Phases

Microsoft has changed how they define the supported period for software, including Windows.

Traditional Support: 10 Years

Traditionally, Windows support came in two phases, totalling 10 years:

  1. The end of mainstream support means that there will be no further free updates to the operating system (only essential fixes and security updates).
  2. When extended support expires there will be no more security updates, bug fixes, or technical support.

This ten-year support period is for the operating system, not from the date of purchase. If you purchase a licence six years after that version is released, you will only have four years of extended support.

Modern Support: Lifetime of the Device

Unlike the support lifecycle for previous versions, Windows 10 has moved to the modern lifecycle policy which provides support for the “lifetime of the device.”

Currently, Microsoft provides Windows 10 support for one year from the most recent major update (spring or fall). If you continue to update, this will not be an issue for you unless Microsoft determines that your hardware is unsupportable (usually because the manufacturer ended support).

Windows 11 support lasts for 24 months following the release of an annual feature update (36 months for enterprise and education). If Microsoft treats Windows 11 like Windows 10, support will end when your hardware is deemed unsupported or 10 years after release.

When Extended Support Ends

Once support for any version of Windows ends, it is no longer safe to use. You will need to look for an alternative as soon as possible.

In the last year of extended support, Microsoft will give you plenty of warning so you can prepare before it is too late.

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Planning for Windows Replacement

If you're still running Windows 7, Microsoft will no longer provide updates or fixes, including security updates.

As security updates are released for Windows 10, hackers and malicious actors will be testing Windows 7 (and earlier) for those same vulnerabilities, making it increasingly dangerous to remain online.

Your Windows 8.1 or 10 computer may also be affected if it contains legacy hardware that either Microsoft or the manufacturer chooses to end support.

How Important is Windows Software to You?

The options depend upon how committed you are to Windows and what you use your computer for.

Probably the most important aspects to consider are your software and hardware requirements.

  • Consider what software you're running and if it can be replaced or likely needs to be upgraded in the future.
  • Consider if you have critical hardware that cannot run on alternative operating systems nor can be replaced easily.
  • Not all legacy Windows-based hardware will work with Windows 10. Even less will work with Windows 11.

If you have a significant investment in Windows software or hardware that is impossible to replace, you may need to move to Windows 11 even if it means investing in a new computer and necessary updates to your software.

If you are a basic user then alternatives like Linux and Mac become easier to accept.

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Moving to Windows 10 (or 11)

The release of Windows 11 created complications and some uncertainty. Most new computers now come with Windows 11 pre-installed, removing the option to purchase a new Windows 10 computer.

The option to upgrade Windows 7 or 8.1 computers to Windows 10 is uncertain. It appears to be supported but that could end as the end of support for Windows 10 approaches. Microsoft is more invested in encouraging the purchase of newer, more powerful computers already running Windows 11.

Some features in Windows 10 no longer work the same way in Windows 11, including the Start menu and not all of the promised features of Windows 11 have yet appeared.

Recent Hardware & Software?

If your hardware is recent and relatively powerful, it will likely support Windows 10 and possibly Windows 11 (which is much more demanding if you are to meet the official requirements for TPM 2.0 and very recent processor).

The question becomes one of how well does it support the new features you want to use (new hardware may be necessary that has the ability to manage those features). You may need to replace external devices like printers and scanners if they lack drivers for Windows 11.

If your hardware is relatively old, you need to invest in a new Windows computer or consider one of the alternatives to Windows.

Since Windows 11 has been released, most new Windows computers will now have Windows 11 preloaded. The availability of new Windows 10 computers will be a rapidly-diminishing resource.

Support for Windows 10 for existing installations is pretty certain until support expires October 14, 2025, but depends upon the hardware. Marginal hardware is less likely to retain support.

Your software is another aspect to consider.

Relatively-new software will likely run on both Windows 10 and Windows 11.

Whether you move to Windows 10 or move to another operating system there is the possibility that you'll need to purchase or upgrade your current software. Most Linux software is free, but the bulk of Mac and Windows software is not.

Email

Moving to another email program may cause some issues, particularly if your old programs is either obsolete or not supported by the new operating system.

This will be less of an issue if you meet one of these conditions:

Webmail will continue to work on the new computer via your browser, provided the mail you need remains on the server. This is why IMAP is commonly used.

IMAP will generally leave all your mail on your ISP's server (e.g., Shaw or Telus) unless you've manually removed it from the server (or used email settings that do so automatically).

Email Stored Only On Your Computer

If you have a significant amount of important email stored on your computer that is NOT currently on the email server, the transition could be more challenging and you may need to use an import/export utility to convert the mail format.

Moving to another operating system may mean exporting your email from the old email program then importing it into the new one. This works better for some programs than others, so your mileage may vary.

CAD/Adobe/Accounting

CAD programs, an Adobe Suite, accounting programs or other significant software that currently works for you may not be supported on another operating system or require you to purchase the correct version for the new operating system. Seldom are there cross-platform discounts.

The exception are cross-platform cloud-based services, such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft 365. These can be moved from one computer or operating system to another with few problems (you may need to contact the vendor's support for help) but are subscription based.

Upgrading to Windows 10 or 11

An upgrade to Windows 10 or 11 may be your only option if you NEED to run software or connect hardware that works only in Windows. Not all printers and scanners provide support for both Windows and Mac (especially legacy hardware) and even fewer provide support for Linux.

Windows 10 has matured significantly since its release. The transition from Windows 7 and 8.1 is relatively painless, other than getting used to the new interface.

Many people considered Windows 7 as the peak of the Windows experience, but much of the hardware required to use touch, 3D and similar technology was not yet commonly available if at all.

Windows 10 boots faster, works faster, and seems much more robust than either Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1.
InfoWorld

What About Windows 11?

Windows 11 was released on October 4, 2021. Upgrades from Windows 10 are free if the device supports the Windows 11 system requirements.

Moving from earlier Windows versions prior to Windows 10 is not supported.

Windows 11 can run even faster on supported hardware. Hardware released more than four years before Windows 11 launched is almost certainly not going to be supported.

Many of the new features in Windows 11 will require recent hardware to work. Moving to a new computer with Windows 11 preinstalled will likely provide a better experience than upgrading older hardware. Be sure not to waste your money on an entry level computer. You get what you pay for.

Free Windows 10 Upgrades Potentially Ended

The support for the free upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 has officially ended but is still possible.

If your computer hardware is sufficiently modern, a free Windows 10 upgrade from Windows 7 or 8.1 may still be possible.

If your hardware too old, it is unlikely that it will support a Windows 10 upgrade or its newest features. Since Microsoft could end support for specific older hardware at any time, spending money to update wouldn't make sense.

See Should You Upgrade? on the Windows 10 page.

Upgrade Resources

If you do decide to upgrade to Windows 10, there are resources to help you:

Moving to a New Windows Computer

If you cannot upgrade your current computer, you need to consider a new Windows 11 computer if you choose to stay with Windows.

Potential Issues

Consider these potential issues with moving to Windows 10 or 11:

  • There are privacy and monetization considerations. Privacy setting have been a moving target. Linux is a safer bet if you're worried about that.
  • Windows 10 pre-loads a lot of bloatware (e.g., Candy Crush) and places annoying roadblocks when trying to make your preferred apps the default instead of Edge, Photos, Films & TV, etc.
  • Many non-essential apps cannot be uninstalled at all (including Xbox).
  • Windows 10 is essentially a mobile-first, cloud-first operating system which is enhanced for touch. Windows 10's Start menu is nothing like Windows 7's but is an improvement over Windows 8.1's.
  • Some users have experienced issues with forced updates that have included flaws leading to the loss of personal data or even the inability to start Windows. Microsoft appears to have reconsidered this practice.

The widespread collection of data and threats to privacy are not unique to Windows 10. Many websites routinely collect a lot of information about us and many apps on our smart phones and tablets do the same.

Corporate Users Face Unique Challenges

For companies, particularly those that have folks working from home, there are additional challenges when upgrading.

For small offices, without added automation capabilities, you have to send a person down to every machine to do the migration. And there are plenty of home users that rarely, or never, come into the office.
Sumir Karayi

Business Resources

The following resources can help you make the right decision for your business and perhaps smooth the transition period, particularly if you're paying for Windows 7 updates:

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Alternatives to Windows

If you aren't committed to the Windows environment but still need a computer, the best options include either moving to a Mac or to Linux. Both will require some adjustments, but so does moving to Windows 10 or 11.

Chromebook may work for some users with less demanding requirements.

Others may consider doing away with a computer altogether and moving to a tablet or smartphone. Combined with a wireless printer, most basic requirements can be met.

Mac

Switching to a Mac means embracing Apple's computing model and can mean some significant investments in hardware and possibly software. Since Macs can last up to twice as long the extra expense can be justified.

Major software like Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office does not recognize a Windows licence when installed on a Mac (Adobe Cloud and Office 365 subscriptions do).

However, the Mac comes with a decent office suit pre-installed as well as a host of other decent software.

If you already use an iPad or iPhone, familiarity with iOS will make the transition to macOS easier.

Linux

Switching to Linux offers a free but workable option, particularly if your hardware is too old to run Windows 10.

Modern Linux automatically installs most of the software that casual users require such as Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, etc. You can also install other software.

Linux comes in various flavours (called distributions) as well as options for your desktop environment. I recommend Linux Mint because it more closely resembles Windows 7 in how it looks and feels and is based upon the popular Ubuntu.

Ubuntu and Mint are now the third and fourth most popular home operating systems (after Windows and Mac).

Not only home users have embraced Linux. The governments of South Korea and Munich, Germany are among those that have moved to Linux.

More about switching from Windows to Linux.

Chromebook®

While Chromebooks offer a less expensive computing experience, it requires a full-time Internet connection for most functions (it is essentially a cloud-based operating system).

ChromeBook has considerable privacy issues (Google never forgets) but will run Android apps, which may appeal to those with Android devices (as Windows 11 is supposed to do).

Chromebook requires connection to the Internet, so there is no option of going off-line. You'll need to replace your Chromebook when support expires.

Chromebooks may be suitable for light users, but any power user should look elsewhere.

Just be clear on what you're getting if you purchase one.

More about Chromebooks.

Tablets & Smartphones

If you're a home user and you don't create a lot of original content (i.e., you mostly surf the Web, read email and view social media) you might consider moving to an iPad or Android tablet. Combined with a suitable wireless printer you may be able to do away with computers altogether.

Tablets for Business

Businesses may find it useful to move to a suitable tablet for travel or other portable use, but most businesses will continue to require computers for some of their work — at least for now.

Tablets have gotten more powerful over the years, but even top-tier 2-in-1s like Microsoft's Surface Pro and Apple's iPad Pro are still a step away from replacing laptops for many business users.
ComputerWorld

Newer versions of Apple iPad Pro are as powerful as computers and when combined with the latest Apple pen they provide a powerful incentive for some business uses.

More software is becoming available for tablets that is aimed at business (e.g., Affinity Designer for iPad) but require newer, more capable devices running the newest technology.

In one 2018 review, the 9.7 inch iPad Pro fared well against the Microsoft Surface Go for Business when a Logitech Slim Folio for iPad keyboard case was added. Hardware has improved since then.

Be sure to consider the disadvantages of moving from a traditional computer and tactile keyboard when making your decision.

Smartphones

Smartphones are excellent for communications tasks but the limited screen size may affect your productivity when using apps that benefit from a larger viewport.

While smartphones are available in quite large sizes, I find the convenience of a smaller phone for portability combined with a tablet a useful compromise. Neither threatens my need for computers at this time. New technologies like folding phones may change that soon.

 

Preparing to Upgrade

Note: this section assumes an upgrade from either Windows 7 or 8.1 to Windows 10.

Windows 11 upgrades from Windows 10 are free, but only for very recent hardware.

Before upgrading you'll want to ensure that you can recover from any disaster and that you give the upgrade the best chance of success.

If you're specifically upgrading from Win 7 to Win 10, you're at higher risk for problems.

 

That's because the Windows 10 update requires adoption of a completely new system, so the installation can wipe out your existing user data and all of your system preferences.

 

Backing up before you update is critically important to minimize your risk of downtime.
Acronis

Upgrading Windows 7/8.1

Windows 10 Updates add new functionality — provided they are supported by your hardware.

System Requirements

System requirements are minimal for new Windows 10 installations:

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz)+ processor or System on a Chip (SoC);
  • A minimum 16 GB (32 GB for 64-bit) hard drive space;
  • 1GB RAM (2GB for 64-bit);
  • DirectX 9 or later graphics card with WDDM 1.0 driver;
  • A minimum 800 x 600 display.
Internet connectivity is necessary to perform updates and to download and take advantage of some features.

These are minimums. Some features require additional or newer hardware which will improve your experience, especially more RAM, a SSD hard drive and a better video card.

Downloading Windows 10

You can immediately download the Windows 10 upgrade, activating it by providing a legitimate Windows 10 licence key.

Upgrading for Free

The “free” upgrade period has ended, but many people have managed to upgrade their computers to Windows 10 without purchasing a licence.

These resources may help.

Prepare for the Upgrade

Follow these steps:

  1. Do a complete backup of your current Windows installation so that you can recover if the upgrade fails.
  2. Backup your data (documents, pictures, videos, music, etc.) separately onto a reliable removable drive so that you have a backup of your data separately from a backup of your old Windows system. This allows you to copy these files back without restoring system settings.
  3. Uninstall any software you no longer use (keep the installation media, just in case).
  4. De-authorize any software that requires authorization (e.g Adobe Suites, Nitro Pro, WS-FTP). This avoids issues with reinstalling it if something goes wrong.
    • If the upgrade goes smoothly, simply re-authorize the software when the upgrade is completed.
    • If something goes wrong you'll have to reinstall the software before re-authorizing it.
  5. Download the new Windows 10 installation media and store it on the computer where you can find it (e.g., the Desktop). Save a copy on a removable thumb drive as a backup.
  6. Restart Windows to complete any processes awaiting a reboot.
  7. To ensure a smooth upgrade, temporarily remove your security software. Firewall, antivirus and other components could block the update of Windows.
  8. You will probably have to restart Windows again.

Don't Use Your System

Once you're completed these steps, do not use the Internet or run your applications because that can create changes to your system and alter files you've backed up.

Windows Security will provide minimal protection for your computer during the transition.

The Upgrade Process

At this point your system is ready for upgrade.

Upgrading is quite simple. I strongly recommend that you run the Windows installation media that you downloaded in the last step.

The upgrade assistant will advise you whether your hardware is capable and if any programs will not be able to run under your new version of Windows.

Other Considerations

The upgrade process is not perfect. People have experienced catastrophic failures, including losing the ability to boot their computer at all.

In such cases you can try to do a clean install of either the updated or of previous Windows version. In either case you're going to need those backups.

By backing up the full system, you could be back up and running quickly by reinstalling Windows then restoring settings, applications and more from a good backup.

Your mileage may vary depending upon your backup software and what is installed on your system.

Clean Install

In a clean install involves these steps:

  1. Format the hard drive.
  2. Install the base operating system.
  3. Apply all system updates.
  4. Reinstall your programs.
  5. Restore your data.

Because your drive is wiped, issues with broken drivers, missing files, incorrect settings, malware and other problems are resolved.

Be Prepared

Search for, download and save copies of necessary drivers onto removable media before beginning the clean install process.

Ensure you have all software licenses as well as your Windows licence key if a sticker isn't present on your computer or if you can't read it.

Deactivate software that limits the number of installations. These need to be deregistered so you can use it on your new or clean-restored computer.

Ensure that boot-sector viruses aren't present. Do a complete scan of your system with a current and effective security suite before you begin the upgrade.

Long Process

Windows 10 provides several options when reinstalling from an existing Windows 10 installation including

  1. a recovery that includes all your programs and data; or
  2. a clean install where everything is removed.

A clean install of Windows 10 will present fewer updates if you start with a current Windows 10 installer or use the clean install on an existing Windows 10 system. Don't forget you'll need to reinstall all your programs then restore your data and settings after a clean install.

When upgrading from Windows 7 or 8.1 you can try an upgrade or a clean install.

If Windows 10 doesn't work for you, restoring Windows 8.1 may require installing Windows 8 before updating it to Windows 8.1 if your system came with Windows 8. Support for Windows 8 has expired; support for Windows 8.1 is January 10, 2023.

These upgrades are a one-way option since Windows 7 is no longer supported and Window 8.1 support is ending soon.

Recovery Media Required

If you've lost the recovery media for your computer or never created it in the first place it may be impossible for you to recover your system.

Windows 10 may be able to generate the necessary drivers, but without your recovery media there is no going back to your old Windows version.

Local Account

The Windows 10 installer also provides the option for a Windows 10 local account, which is less likely to send your private information to Microsoft — if you make the correct choices during setup.

In recent Windows 10 versions, the only way to do this is to be sure your computer doesn't have Internet access enabled during the initial setup phase and ignoring Microsoft's requests for access until setup is complete.

This has become even more difficult with Windows 11 and may no longer work with Windows 10 unless you have a work-around.

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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Updated: October 18, 2022