New Zealand Law Society - Windows 7: Leaving so soon?

Windows 7: Leaving so soon?

Windows 7: Leaving so soon?

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Microsoft will withdraw support for Windows 7, its fastest-ever selling version of Windows, on 14 January 2020. No more security patches or other updates from this date, meaning it’s time to upgrade.

The history of Microsoft Windows sure has been a strange old rollercoaster ride. It officially started with version 1.0 back in 1985, but Windows didn’t gain mainstream adoption until version 3.0 in 1990. Its popularity exploded with the release of Windows 95, which began a 15-year period of total dominance and ubiquity for the operating system. A dominance that only came to an end with the resurgence of Apple and the smartphone revolution over the last decade.

Windows 7 (2009) became the biggest selling version of Windows both because it was released during a period of peak market dominance for the PC and because it was sandwiched between two of the worst and least popular versions that Microsoft has yet inflicted upon us. Windows Vista (2006) and Windows 8 (2012) were both critical and commercial failures, having likely only contributed a measly few billion to Bill Gates’ net worth.

Windows 7, on the other hand, was fast, secure and basically sucked a lot less than the versions that came before and after. It went on to sell an incredible 450 million copies in less than two years.

It didn’t just sell quickly in its early days, however. It also had amazing longevity. Because of the disappointment that was Windows 8, many customers, particularly businesses, chose to keep buying PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed for years after Windows 8 was released. A significant percentage of new PCs were still being sold with Windows 7 when Windows 10 finally came along in 2015 to put Windows 8.1 (as it was called by then) out of its misery. It was only a couple of years ago that manufacturers stopped selling Windows 7 PCs and only last year that Windows 10 overtook Windows 7 for worldwide installs. This means that more than a fifth of PC devices (which includes Macs) in New Zealand are still running Windows 7 today.

Microsoft offered a free upgrade to Windows 10 upon its release to try and wean customers off Windows 7. Corporate customers were a lot less keen on the free upgrade than consumers, meaning the percentage of Windows 7-based PCs in the office is a lot higher than the overall country average. There are no reliable stats available, but some estimates put this figure above 40%.

The logic behind the move

Why should I care? One word: security.

Yes, your Windows 7 PCs might be running just fine and they may indeed have a couple of years’ of life left in them yet. But they are also running an operating system that is over 10 years old and that, as of 14 January, won’t receive updates or security patches from Microsoft anymore.

Microsoft, left with the unenviable choice between extending Windows 7 support (and hurting Windows 10 sales) or ending support for an OS that still runs on tens of millions of computers worldwide, chose the latter and will effectively yank the rug out from under a huge customer base. Yes, extending Windows 7 support would have been expensive and yes they have been telling customers for years that this would happen, but I think it’s poor form for them to withdraw support for an OS that so many of us still use.

This article is being written on a laptop running Windows 7. I do almost all of my work in a browser these days (I’ve just counted and I have 55 Google Chrome tabs open), so the version of Windows that I’m running is largely irrelevant to me in 2019. Yes, I will upgrade my laptop prior to Windows 7 support being withdrawn, but I’m annoyed that I have to given that this machine is only three years old. It feels like I’ve just broken it in and now I have to replace it.

I’ll upgrade because the days of being blasé about computer security (and outdated software) are over. We can no longer tell ourselves that we’re too small or too unimportant to be of interest to hackers, because almost all of us have been the target of at least one hacking attempt during the last 12 months. The majority of us have been the victim of a successful hacking attempt over the past five years.

I for one had my debit card details stolen this year after hackers compromised Kathmandu’s website and this caused me considerable cost and disruption. All of the fraudulent purchases were refunded, but my card was cancelled and it took two weeks to get a new one. Payments were missed, subscriptions suspended and it took me ages to resolve everything once my new card arrived.

At Choice Technology we see a steady stream of business customers who need help to recover from security breaches. These are almost always preventable and the effects can be catastrophic. In many cases if the customer had updated their software they would have been protected from whatever exploit they succumbed to. This is why all of the computers that we manage on behalf of our customers receive regular automated updates and are monitored for security-related events 24 hours per day. This is also why we’re asking our customers to upgrade their Windows 7 PCs prior to support being withdrawn.

So don’t wait until January to think about upgrading from Windows 7. It’s a good idea to do a stocktake now and to have a plan in place for upgrading or replacing them before Microsoft finally withdraws support for what became one of the most popular versions of Windows ever.

Bye Windows 7. It’s a shame you have to leave so soon, but it was great while it lasted.

Damian Funnell is a technologist. He is the founder of Choice Technology, an IT services company, and Hoodoo, an app development studio.

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