Upgrading when Support Ends
When Windows Support is Ending
Support for Windows 7 and earlier versions has expired.
- Windows 8.1 will be the next to lose support on January 10, 2023.
- Windows 10 is supported until October 14, 2025.
- Windows 11's long-term support is not specified by Microsoft, but probably will be ten years (approximately October 2031).
When this page was launched, Windows 10 was the only viable Microsoft option following the end of support for Windows 7.
With the release of Windows 11 that has changed…sort of. The problem is that Windows 11 has such high system requirments that many Windows 10 computers, including some that are less than five years old, are not eligible for upgrade and won't be in 2025.
Microsoft is advocating that users on Windows 8.1 go to Windows 11, but Windows 10 is another option. Windows 10 will continue to be supported by Microsoft and receive security updates until October 14, 2025.
By requiring Secure Boot and a TPM 2.0 chip, Windows 11 totally neutralizes a whole class of malware attacks, attacks that gain total control over the computer by subverting the Windows boot process or getting into the system before bootup.
Older Hardware Likely Unsupported
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.
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.
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.
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update) has expired, it is dangerous to use because repaired security vulnerabilities can affect older systems that are no longer being updated.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:
- upgrade to a currently-supported version of Windows (if supported by your hardware);
- find an alternative (replacement); or
- go offline permanently.
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.
You can continue to use Windows for home theatre, music, etc. as long as you're depending upon CDs and DVDs or existing content stored on the device. That excludes Netflix, YouTube, Spotify or other online streaming services.
You can also continue to use it as a word processor except with programs like Microsoft 365 which are dependent upon Internet access to work.
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.
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.
Perhaps you're happy with using your phone to view such content, 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.
- Download drivers only from the vendor's site (not third-party “driver support” sites).
- 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.
- 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 rethink using the legacy system such as trying to install Linux (after backing up your data).
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:
- The end of mainstream support means that there will be no further free updates to the operating system (only essential fixes and security updates).
- 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
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.
Planning for Windows Replacement
If you're still running Windows 7, Microsoft will no longer provide updates or fixes, including security updates.
After January 14, 2020, no further security updates will be published freely to [Windows 7] users, though paid security updates will be available to volume license users of Professional and Enterprise versions through January 10, 2023.
— Tech Republic
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 Microsoft chooses to end support.
How Important is Windows Software?
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 and if it 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 10 or 11.
If you are a basic user then alternatives like Linux and Mac become easier to accept.
- Windows, Mac, or Linux? We compare the pros and cons of these computing platforms.
- macOS vs. Windows: Which OS really is the best?
Moving to Windows 10 (or 11)
The release of Windows 11 has complicated things by potentially removing the option to upgrade to Windows 10 unless you do it quickly. Most new computers will now have Windows 11 preinstalled.
I've not tried to update a Windows 7 or 8.1 computer to Windows 10 since the release of Windows 11, so that option is uncertain.
Recent Hardware & Software?
If your hardware is recent and relatively powerful, it will likely support Windows 10 and possibly Windows 11. The question becomes one of how well does it support the new features you want to use and if you will need to replace external devices like printers and scanners.
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 if you prefer that version.
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 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 much of Mac and Windows 10 software is not.
Moving to another email program may cause some issues, particularly if your old programs is either obsolete or not supported in the new system.
This will be less of an issue if you meet one of these conditions:
- If you run webmail in your browser rather than using a stand-alone email client.
- If you're current computer and devices are using the IMAP protocol.
Webmail will continue to work on the new computer via your browser, provided you have not downloaded then deleted any mail.
IMAP will leave all your mail on your ISP's server (e.g., Shaw) unless you've manually moved it to another folder not synced with the server.
Email Stored Only On Your Computer
If you have a significant amount of important email stored on your computer that is NOT still 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 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 version for the new operating system. Seldom are there cross-platform discounts.
Many such programs have moved to 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).
Upgrading to Windows 10 or 11
An upgrade to Windows 10 may be your only option if you NEED to run either software or hardware that works only on Windows. While many printers and scanner provide support for both Windows and Mac, not all do (and even fewer provide support for Linux).
Windows 10 has matured significantly since its release and may offer some advantages over Windows 7 and 8.1, depending upon your hardware capabilities and your need for the newer features.
Windows 10 boots faster, works faster, and seems much more robust than either Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1.
What About Windows 11?
Windows 11 promises to run even faster on supported hardware. Hardware older than four years is almost certainly not going to be supported.
Many of the new features in Windows 10 and 11 will require recent hardware to work. Moving to a new computer with Windows 10 or 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
I have managed free upgrades since Windows 7 support officially ended, but some have failed due to hardware incompatibility and such support can disappear without warning.
If your computer hardware is sufficiently modern, a free Windows 10 upgrade from Windows 7 or 8.1 may still be possible.
Now that Windows 11 is released, upgrading to Windows 10 may no longer 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 older hardware at any time, spending money to update wouldn't make sense.
See Should You Upgrade? on the Windows 10 page.
If you do decide to upgrade to Windows 10, there are resources to help you:
- Upgrade to Windows 10: FAQ (Microsoft Support).
- Windows 7 to Windows 10 migration guide.
- Windows 10: How you can successfully make the move from Windows 7.
Moving to a New Windows Computer
If you cannot upgrade your current computer, you need to consider a new Windows 10 or Windows 11 computer if you choose to stay with Windows.
In such a case, purchasing a new Windows computer probably is your best option.
Windows 11 Released
Windows 11 was released on October 4, 2021. Upgrades from Windows 10 will become available in late 2021 and into 2022, depending upon the hardware if the device supports the Windows 11 system requirements.
Moving from Windows versions earlier than Windows 10 is not supported.
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
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:
- Choosing your Windows 7 exit strategy: Four options (a $49 Tech Republic white paper).
- How to prepare your organization for the end of Windows 7 support.
- The Windows 10 security guide: How to safeguard your business.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.