Microsoft relents on shorter Windows 7 support decree

Customer, OEM complaints likely led to nullification of January's mandate

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Ignite New Zealand

Microsoft today repudiated an early retirement date for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 support, saying that it will patch those operating systems on PCs running Intel's Skylake silicon until 2020 and 2023, respectively.

The move was a complete rollback of a January degree that Microsoft called a "clarification" of its support policy. Under the January plan, Microsoft would have ended most support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 on July 17, 2017, if the operating systems were powering machines equipped with Intel's now-current Skylake processor family.

At the time, Microsoft attributed the decision to Windows 7's age and the hassle that Microsoft and OEMs would have to go through to ensure the 2009 operating system ran on Intel's latest architecture.

In March, Microsoft retreated from the original mandate, saying then that it was extending the support drop-dead date by a year, to July 18, 2018. After that date, Microsoft said, it and its computer-making partners would not guarantee that they would revise device drivers to support Windows 7 and 8.1 on newer hardware.

Under both original and revised plans, Skylake-powered PCs that were on a Microsoft-curated exempt list would receive only "critical" security updates -- those patching the most serious flaws -- after the deadlines. Skylake devices not on the exempt list would get nothing.

Today's announcement invalidated the entire proposal from January, with Microsoft essentially saying "Never mind."

"We have extended the support period from July 17, 2018 to the end of support dates for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1; and we will provide all applicable security updates," wrote Shad Larsen, a director of Windows business planning, on a company blog.

Those end-of-support dates have been set in stone for years: Jan. 14, 2020 (for Windows 7) and Jan. 10, 2023 (Windows 8.1).

Notably, Microsoft not only retained the original retirement dates for Skylake PCs running Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, but promised that the idea of delivering only critical updates is also dead. "6th Gen Intel Core devices [that's Skylake] on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 will be supported with all applicable security updates until the end of support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1," Larsen said [emphasis added].

The one support rule that Microsoft did not reverse was its decision to support only Windows 10 on Intel's Skylake successor, an architecture dubbed "Kaby Lake;" and on AMD's next-generation "Bristol Ridge." That remained in place today.

Microsoft obliquely acknowledged that the retreat had been prompted by customers. "We recognize that, in some instances, customers have a few systems that require longer deployment timeframes [to Windows 10]," Larsen said.

But some computer makers -- OEMs, or "original equipment manufacturers" -- had also criticized the shortening of support. In March, for example, Lenovo implied that it disagreed with Microsoft, likely concerned about losing sales if customers were uncertain whether they could complete migrations from Windows 7 to Windows 10 by the initial 2017 deadline.


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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