Still using Windows 7? Here's what you need to know
Windows 7 has come to "end of life" on 14 January. It will still run, but it will no longer be supported with security updates, product upgrades and technical assistance from its developers. So just because you can use it, it doesn't mean you should.
It had a good innings of 10 years, and has been a popular system which many have stuck with, based on its (relative) usability and reliability. The less said about Windows 8, the better.
There may be good reasons why you have continued to use Windows 7 up to now, even with the knowledge that it would no longer be supported into 2020. Perhaps you are comfortable using it, and prefer it over the other options and would rather avoid the hassle of an upgrade. IT budgets and compatibility with other important software is another issue, along with complacency.
Market statistics show that Windows 7 held about a third of the share of all desktop operating systems as late as December 2019, and its unlikely that this has changed by much even after the 14 January deadline. 2% of machines are still on the even more outdated Windows XP.
But no particular software version can be supported on a continuing basis in a sustainable way, and the 10-year end-of-support was always on the cards since the 2009 release.
The most important part of this message is that PCs running Windows 7 no longer receive security updates. These are the software patches that fix vulnerabilities that have been discovered in the software, which are applied on a rolling basis—typically at set times every month, but sometimes more quickly to address the most serious flaws.
As annoying as software patches can be (they have a habit of starting automatically when you're about to give a presentation or do a webcam call), they are very important to ensure the ongoing security of your systems.
Using unsupported software puts users and data at risk, as the lack of patches mean the security of the system cannot be guaranteed. While there is no such thing as "100% secure" for any software, those that are out of life are much more vulnerable, with little to no prospect of the problems being addressed.
Defective operating systems therefore leave you vulnerable to wide-range of cyber attacks, such as malware, remote code execution, and ransomware. To put it mildly, connecting to the Internet from a Windows 7 PC is like swimming in shark-infested waters wearing only a snorkel.
Continuing with Windows 7 will also affect your organisation's legal compliance. It would be quite difficult to state that you can meet the security requirements of data protection legislation (Data Protection Act, GDPR) or an information management standard (e.g. ISO:27001, Cyber Essentials), while continuing to rely on a software which has known—and unknown—security flaws, with no prospect of those being fixed.
This means a higher potential for a data breach, loss of data, or being able to access your system if its affected by ransomware.
If you are still using Windows 7, you really do need to plan an upgrade, and you need to do this soon.
Your choice will likely depend on budget, but it's a choice you will have to make at some point. While it may be cheaper not to upgrade right now, a hefty data breach fine or losing all your data will probably cost more.
As you are at risk right now, it would be a good idea to back up all your data on a regular basis in case disaster does hit (as well as in preparing for an upgrade). This is by no means a long-term solution, upgrade is still the only answer.
Purchase and upgrade to Windows 10
The list price for Windows 10 licences are:
- Windows 10 Home: £120 per licence
- Windows 10 Pro: £199 per licence
But, registered charities can benefit from discounted Windows 10 products through the Microsoft Software Donations Programme (see below).
The difference between the two editions is that Home is for single users, while Pro is required for corporate networks, i.e. those with a need for computers on a managed network (a domain or tenant).
If you feel that you would benefit from buying new equipment now you should be able to get a deal with Windows 10 included—but there is no need to buy new equipment solely to run Windows 10. In most cases 10 will run on the machine you have been using with Windows 7 and it's a matter of upgrading that machine.
If you do plan to get rid of any old machines when doing this, you also need to ensure that they are effectively wiped of all data. Also, think about how they can be disposed on in an environmentally-friendly way.
Microsoft Software Donations Programme
If you are a UK registered charity (including registration with the Charity Commission of Northern Ireland) you can benefit from discounted software donated through the Charity Digital Exchange programme.
- If you currently have Windows 7 Pro or Enterprise (or another Windows Pro/Enteprrise version), then you can purchase a Windows 10 upgrade licence through Charity Digital Exchange for the much cheaper price of £16+VAT per licence. You can do this for as many as 50 computers in your organisation though the Volume Licensing Service Centre.
If you are not eligible for the above upgrade because you have Windows 7 Home (other Windows Standard/Home version, or an unlicensed or improperly licensed Windows) then you may be able to request a Pro licence through the Windows Get Genuine programme for £9+VAT, which would allow you to then upgrade to Windows 10 Pro using the above scheme.
Please check the requirements and eligibility restrictions at the link.
Activate Windows 10 using your Windows 7 product key, for no extra cost
It was the case that Microsoft gave Windows 7 users the opportunity to freely upgrade to Windows 10 as an attempt to get more customers on board, but only until June 2016.
Even though this "free upgrade" to Windows 10 for Windows 7 users has officially ended, it seems that the upgrade can still be activated by downloading Windows 10 and installing it with your Windows 7 product key. This doesn't seem to be an official Microsoft-approved method, but it is reported to have worked for many people. Attempt at your own risk and back up first.
Windows 7 Extended Security Updates
It's not entirely true to say Windows 7 is no longer supported. Patching is still available, at a cost.
If you are in the dilemma of being unable to move away from Windows 7, extended security update licences can be bought for each device they're needed, per year.
This means continued patching for a limited time to cover security issues. But this is only an option for users of Windows 7 Pro and Enterprise, and available through specific volume licensing programs.
But this is an expensive option and the price will double year-on-year, and it will only put off doing a full upgrade for so long (apparently until January 2023). Upgrading right away remains the better option.
Alternatives to a Windows operating system
While its certainly the dominant desktop OS, Windows is not the only game in town.
Other operating systems do exist, chiefly Linux-based (free) and Apple's macOS (expensive, and for Apple computers only).
Using these systems would be a step-change for many people in your organisation, and you would need to consider compatibility with existing software and products that you may be reliant on—though there are also many free programmes that have been developed for Linux.
The advantages that both Linux and macOS have over Windows is that they are regarded as much less vulnerable to security risks, but this may be at the cost of moving to an entirely new and probably unfamiliar system. If you're turned off by Microsoft's business model and (anti-) privacy practices, this may be your preference over moving to another Windows OS.
And if you're running an old and slow machine that you don't think will be able to handle the minimum system requirements for Windows 10—and are unable to afford a new machine—you should know that there are many Linux options that will run where Windows 10 won't. Whatever Linux option you go for, you still need to consider if it's supported and for how long until you also need to upgrade it. But it will be free.