FAQ: Microsoft mandates new Windows support rules

New PCs must run -- with some exemptions -- Windows 10, company insists

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Okay, what's the real reason Microsoft is changing support? Only Redmond's execs know.

But here are some guesses:

  • Yet another push, gentle or not, to get customers to migrate to Windows 10 sooner rather than later.
  • A quid pro quo with the major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), who were shut out of their usual new-OS bump in shipments and resulting sales when Microsoft offered a free upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft's earlier-than-expected demise of Windows 7 support and the transitional list of privileged PCs, say analysts, will give a boost to OEM sales.
  • A hint at how Microsoft could continue to make money even if Windows 10 is the last version of its OS, a question experts have pondered since the company first breathed the claim. Microsoft could, down the line, announce that the newest silicon will only run Windows 10.x, and push customers to buy new devices to retain support.

Why is Microsoft lumping Windows 8.1 with Windows 7? After all, the former is very much like Windows 10. Good question.

One guess: Microsoft has put the Windows 8 coffin in the ground and tossed a few shovelfuls of dirt atop. It wants to forget the plagued OS ever happened.

How does this affect enterprises? Depends.

Many organizations, both large and small, have traditionally bought new PCs using an annual budget -- it's not feasible to replace all at the same time -- then downgraded the OS that comes on the devices to an older edition to maintain consistency and prevent having to re-train employees on a new operating system.

That won't be as easy under the new rules.

While older technology that allows for Windows 7 support until January 2020 will certainly be available in new PCs -- OEMs aren't stupid, they'll have systems to sell -- a latest-gen machine, the preferred purchase, may not be in support long enough for a firm to migrate to Windows 10.

That's the purpose of Microsoft's exempt list -- to act as a bridge -- but those PCs may not be the ones all enterprises want to purchase.

Companies will have to adapt to the new support rules, probably move faster to Windows 10 than they estimated earlier, and carefully choose which systems they buy.

It's another complication Microsoft's mandated, but in the face of no alternatives -- OS X and Linux are not going to suddenly replace Windows in the workplace -- enterprises will grumble and gripe, but eventually toe the Redmond line.

Has Microsoft done something like this before? Yes and no.

The company has extended support in the past -- in 2008, Microsoft announced an exception for Windows XP that let OEMs pre-load it on netbooks even though the successor, Vista, was already out -- but more recently it's trimmed the support lifecycle, previously set as 10 years, for several editions of Internet Explorer (IE), including the still-popular IE8.

(And to be clear, Microsoft is cutting Windows 7 support short by two and a half years on Skylake-and-later systems.)

But this is the first time Microsoft has demanded that newer PCs run a specific edition of Windows. Previously, Microsoft has commanded customers get new hardware, or perhaps components, in the system requirements for an edition, or added support for, say, a processor family in a recent version. For quite some time, though, Windows' system requirements have not changed, allowing newer OSes, including Windows 7, 8 and even 10, to run on aged hardware.

This reverses that trend.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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