How to prepare your organization for the end of Windows 7 support

Microsoft will offer extended support for Windows 7 for only one more year, as the company’s best-received version of Windows celebrates its 10th birthday this July. After January 14, 2020, no further security updates will be published freely to users, though paid security updates will be available to volume license users of Professional and Enterprise versions through January 10, 2023. The same is true of Windows Server 2008 and Server 2008 R2.

With the impending end of free support for Windows 7, the urgency to migrate to a supported platform is gaining increasing urgency. SMBs without volume licensing agreements are the most affected by this change, as paid security updates will not be available to these customers. Microsoft’s present support of Windows 7 is already causing headaches for IT professionals, as a recent patch caused volume licensed systems to be marked as running “not genuine” copies, prompting Microsoft to issue emergency fix instructions for the issue.

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Convincing users and enterprises to migrate from Windows 7 this year appears to be as significant an undertaking as migrating users from Windows XP was in April 2014. One year before Windows XP reached end-of-support, it held nearly 25% of the desktop OS market share, according to StatCounter. For December 2018, NetMarketShare counts Windows 7’s market share as 35.63% with StatCounter providing a slightly higher estimation of 36.90%. According to NetMarketShare, Windows 10 only overtook Windows 7 as the most popular OS in December 2018, though StatCounter claims that happened in January 2018.

With fully one-third of users still on Windows 7 at this stage in the product life cycle, desire to migrate is quite low considering the poor reception of Windows 8, and the uneven performance, system-breaking updates, and data-collecting behavior of Windows 10.

At TechRepublic’s sister site ZDNet, Mary Jo Foley says “I’ve had several Windows 7 users ask me if Microsoft might end up extending Windows 7 support for everyone beyond January because a number of customers won’t be ready to move off it. I have not seen or heard any indications for such a move.”

So, what are the options for simply not upgrading? Microsoft’s paid security updates are available for three years—for qualifying users—though these support contracts become more expensive each year. “All options for not migrating result in exposing your organization and customers to avoidable risk that no corporation today can really justify,” Sumir Karayi, founder and CEO of endpoint security firm 1E, told TechRepublic.

In terms of completing a migration, “there are very few companies out there that have entirely completed their Windows 10 migrations,” Karayi said. “A number have done the easy 80%—the in-place upgrades, the machine replacements—but that last 20% is proving the hardest part of the entire process. It’s the famous Pareto principle at work again.”

That last 20% is much harder than before to reach, as many businesses are “much more dependent on applications, but there are more remote workers and smaller offices to plan for,” Karayi said. “Both mean hidden costs. 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.”

As more organizations transition to cloud-based services, the necessity of a system that can run Windows-exclusive applications is less of a priority than during the Windows XP end-of-life in 2014. For employees using exclusively web-based services, migrating to devices running Chrome OS is a possibility. In other situations, OS X or Linux may be viable alternatives to Windows 10—while all of these require some degree of user training for the adjustment, the jump from Windows 7 to 10 will inevitably require user training as well.

Certain industries may face limitations in their ability to adopt alternative platform, as Karayi noted that as “an organization with responsibility for regulatory compliance and a duty of care to your customers, you need to consider the extent of manageability of these alternatives and the market for skills to maintain them in your organization.”

How are you handling the end-of-life for Windows 7?

Is your organization opting to purchase paid updates for Windows 7? Do you have concerns over the stability or security of Windows 10? Are you evaluating alternative operating systems? Tell us about your migration strategy in the comments.

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Image: TechRepublic

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