Microsoft finally ends Windows 7 and 8.x support

With even extended support now expired for Windows 7 and 8, the era of non-cloud-connected operating systems has come to an end.

windows 7 logo in the rear view mirror
pan xiaozhen modified by IDG Comm. / Microsoft (CC0)

This week signals the end of the line for Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 support. After years of extended security updates, no more bugs or security holes will be patched in the venerable operating systems.

Windows 7 had a good run. When it launched in 2009, it helped Microsoft bounce back from the disastrous Windows Vista era. Windows 8, by contrast, was almost as big of a disaster as Vista but for a different reason. Whereas Vista was bloated and slow, Windows 8 was simply marred by a very bad interface that was universally panned.

This transition is no different than what we went through last decade with end-of-life support for Windows XP, said Mike Cherry, senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft. “We all understand that even though we have a perpetual license in theory, we’re at the mercy of how long Microsoft focuses on [the version].”

The majority of Microsoft’s focus now is on Windows 11, he said. “That’s the reality. So not only does knowledge of the older versions get stale, the ability to fix them gets stale.”

Changing upgrade lifecycle

The development lifecycle for Windows has changed considerably from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Up to Windows 7, Microsoft released monthly bug fixes and then two service packs over the life of the OS, which is where new features were introduced in addition to the bug fixes.

Cherry said that Microsoft now operates under what it calls “the modern lifecycle,” measured in months, not years, and new features aren’t held for a service pack. It means an aggressive upgrade cycle: he notes that there are already older versions of Windows 10 that are no longer supported.

The message is, “Get used to this — we are on a much faster cadence of updates,” Cherry said. That means that updates with security patches. “The monthly changes are minor. It isn’t truly a major update. And once a year you get a bigger update you have to take to be in the most supported phase of update,” he said.

Windows has morphed from something you get to something you use and is in a constant stage of change that justifies a continuing license, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies. “The rationale for the bits being mutable is there are security issues. Under the rubric of security, [Microsoft] created the perpetual license situation around hacking, which is real but not as important as Microsoft has made it.”

Kay added that today’s software depends on a constant cloud connection. “The modern world is centered around cloud components. There isn’t a significant cloud aspect to Windows 7.”

Why do people hang on to older Windows versions?

Use of Windows 7 and 8 has certainly dwindled in recent years. StatCounter puts the Windows 7 installed base at just over 11% of Windows desktops worldwide and Windows 8/8.1 at less than 3%, while Steam Analytics, managed by game publishers Steam, finds just 1% of its user base running Windows 7. Mind you, Steam is for gamers and is US-based. So it’s not a good measure of global use or business use, but it does show how far Windows 7 use has fallen in certain sectors.

However, one thing different from the migration away from XP to Windows 7 is that Microsoft put its thumb on the scales beginning in 2017, when Windows Update stopped sending Windows 7 updates if it detected a newer CPU. With Windows 7 effectively locked out from newer Intel and AMD processors, it more or less forced the hand of consumers into buying Windows 10.

So why do some businesses and individuals stick with Windows 7 even though it is long past the support date? In my experience with Windows XP end-of-life, the people I found hanging on were not clinging stubbornly to the old, but were unable to move.

Two doctors — an optometrist and a chiropractor — both told me the exact same story: they were hanging onto their XP machines because the vertical software that they used to run their businesses would only work on XP. If they wanted to run it on Windows 7, they had to buy a whole new license, and that software ran into five figures. It was simply too expensive to move, so they delayed the inevitable for as long as possible.

But there are some people who believe if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. “I prefer old-school software because it still works perfectly, it's simple, and I know where everything is. New bells and whistles don't impress me. I care most about being able to complete as much work as possible in a given day, and this happens best on familiar roads,” said Ryan McCormick, co-founder & media relations specialist at Goldman McCormick Public Relations.

Whatever your reason for hanging on, it’s time to let go. Most enterprises have long since moved to Windows 10, but if yours hasn’t, see our Windows 7 to Windows 10 migration guide. Our sister site PCWorld has advice for upgrading individual PCs to Windows 10 or 11.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon