The day that many people are dreading is fast approaching: Microsoft is ending extended support for Windows 7 as January 2020, which means that it will no longer be providing updates and fixes to the extremely popular and widely used operating system. What you may not have realized was that Microsoft actually ended mainstream support for 7 back in 2015, which was when it stopped developing new features for the OS, and stopped taking support calls from users about Windows 7. It’s a testament to the stability and relative security that it’s still in wide use essentially on the eve of it’s retirement, but like all good things, it has to come to an end.
Don’t panic. You have options, but inaction is not one of them.
The primary question I am asked when briefing clients about retiring Windows 7 in their organizations is whether they should upgrade their existing machines, or buy new ones. The simple answer to this, though definitely not the one they necessarily like to hear, is that buying new computers built for Windows 10 are, dollar for dollar, a better investment than upgrading older PCs. Of course there are exceptions, but keep in mind that most PCs that still have a factory-installed Windows 7 OS are likely 3-4 years old at this point, as computers started shipping with Windows 10 mid-2015.
If you’d like to evaluate whether or not your computer is worthy of upgrading versus replacing, consider these factors:
- If your computer is still covered by a warranty, it’s worth considering an upgrade over replacing it.
- Is your computer older than 4 years? Definitely consider replacing, as many of the hardware parts are actually approaching physical end of life and are more likely to fail, regardless of OS.
- Is your CPU an Intel processor 4th generation or higher? Older CPUs will not fair well with Windows 10.
- Do you have at least 4GB of RAM? No? Don’t bother. Four GB is the bare minimum, and 8GB is recommended.
- Running a lot of older applications that you can’t update or upgrade? Upgrading to Windows 10 will likely break those apps. If your business depends on apps that are unsupported on Windows 10, you and I need to have a different discussion.
Even though it’s technically possible to upgrade just about any computer running at least an Intel Core processor (i3, i5 and i7) and 4GB of RAM, there is still a certain amount of work involved in going through this process (which I will detail in next week’s blog). Even if upgrading to Windows 10 results in a functional computer, you are only delaying the inevitable replacement of the device. Still, this is an acceptable path if your short-term budget cannot cover an immediate replacement and you have a longer-term plan to replace the device. On later model PCs, installing Windows 10 can result in some performance gains as well as definite security improvements, but PC’s 4 years and older rarely improve in performance, and the short-term gains are typically overwhelmed the longer that PC is used in any business-critical environment.
In case you haven’t heard, about a third of the world’s computers are about lose official support from Microsoft on April 8. Any computer running Windows XP will no longer receive updates or fixes to any vulnerabilities discovered after the cutoff date. Microsoft will continue to provide limited support to its XP-compatible security products, like Security Essentials (their free anti-malware product), but that is set to end sometime in 2015. Most antivirus manufacturers have stated that they will continue to support XP-compatible versions of their apps into 2016, but without core patches to the XP operating system, their efforts will be merely fingers in a deteriorating dike.
What this means for you:
Though you may not know it, your company or the vendors that service you may be heavily reliant on XP. Case in point – one of my clients relies on XP workstations to monitor environmental-control equipment (think air-conditioning and heating) and building automation systems, and some of the computers running these applications haven’t been updated for years, and in some extreme cases, the hardware may be close to a decade old. Hardware failure aside, the lack of support for XP going forward will mean those computers will need to be replaced ASAP, and may be a cost you hadn’t considered in your 2014 or 2015 budget.
Windows XP powered computers are likely to show up in places where they are used regularly, but maybe not by a single individual and are thus overlooked during the part of the regular upgrade process: kiosks (lobby directories, ATMs, silent radios), point-of-sale systems, document scanning stations, etc. Make sure you comb through your organization’s infrastructure for these computers, as they will become vulnerability points for your entire operation and could lead to serious security breaches. Unfortunately, rectifying these obsoleted workstations won’t be cheap nor easy, especially if they power critical systems, but in some cases it may be possible to port XP-only applications to Windows 7 and run them in compatibility mode. Make sure you work closely with vendors who supply this older software to determine what, if any, plans they have to bring their platform to Windows 7, and if they have no plans, it may be time to consider a new vendor or service.