Microsoft only supports each version of Windows for so long. For example, Windows 7 is currently in “extended support” until January 14, 2020, after which Microsoft will no longer support it. Here’s what that means.

No More Security Updates

When Microsoft stops supporting a version of Windows, Microsoft stops issuing security updates for that operating system. For example, Windows Vista and Windows XP no longer receive security updates, even if substantial security holes are found in them.

On January 14, 2020, the same will be true for Windows 7. Even if people discover huge security holes that affect Windows 7, Microsoft won’t issue you security updates. You’re on your own.

Sure, you can run antivirus tools and other security software to try protecting yourself, but antivirus is never perfect. Running software with the latest security updates is important, too. Antivirus is just one layer of defense. And even security programs will gradually drop support for older versions of Windows.

Microsoft will keep making security updates for Windows 7, even though you can’t get them. Large organizations can sign “custom support” contracts to keep getting security updates for a period while they transition to a new operating system. Microsoft ratchets up the price going forward to encourage those organizations actually to move to a new version of Windows. The same thing happened with Windows XP.

RELATED: Microsoft is Still Making Security Updates for Windows XP, But You Can't Have Them

Software Companies Stop Supporting It, Too

When Microsoft ends support for an operating system, that’s also a signal to other software and hardware companies. They’ll stop supporting that older version of Windows with their own software and hardware, too.

This doesn’t always happen immediately, but it does eventually. For example, Windows XP support ended on April 8, 2014. But Chrome didn’t stop supporting Windows XP until April 2016, two years later. Mozilla Firefox stopped supporting Windows XP in June 2018. Steam will officially drop support for Windows XP and Windows Vista on January 1, 2019.

It may take a few years—as it did with Windows XP—but third-party software will gradually drop support for Windows 7 after the end of support date.

Software companies dropped support for Windows Vista more quickly, as it was much less popular than Windows XP.

RELATED: Windows XP End of Support is on April 8th, 2014: Why Windows is Warning You

New Hardware May Not Work

New hardware components and peripherals will stop working on your system, too. These need hardware drivers, and manufacturers might not create those hardware drivers for your old, out-of-date operating system.

The latest Intel CPU platforms don’t even support Windows 7 and 8.1 right now, although those operating systems are technically still in “extended support” today. It’s already beginning, and Microsoft is still supporting Windows 7!

Sure, you can keep using your old operating system with your current software and hardware, but you have no guarantees of future updates or compatibility.

RELATED: How (and Why) Microsoft Blocks Windows 7 Updates on New PCs

When Will Microsoft End Support?

Microsoft defines end-of-support dates well ahead of time, so they’re never a surprise. You can see all the dates on Microsoft’s Windows lifecycle fact sheet, so you know exactly how long Microsoft will support your version of Windows with security updates.

Give Microsoft some credit, here. At least Microsoft has an official policy. Apple just stops supporting old macOS versions when it feels like it, without a clear policy.

RELATED: How Long Will Microsoft Support My Version of Windows With Security Updates?

What Does “Support” Even Mean?

Technically speaking, there are multiple types of “support.”

Normal consumer versions of Windows 10—that is, Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro—receive feature updates every six months. Those updates are then “serviced” for 18 months. That means they’ll receive security updates for eighteen months, but you can always get more security updates by updating to the next release. Windows 10 automatically installs these new releases, anyway.

But, if you’re still using Windows 10’s Creators Update for some reason, Microsoft stopped supporting it on October 9, 2018, because it was released on April 5, 2017.

Businesses using Enterprise and Education editions have the option of using some of these updates for longer. In Windows 10 parlance, they’re “serviced” for longer. Organizations using Windows 10 LTSB have even longer support periods.

Things are a bit different with older versions of Windows. Windows 7 left “mainstream support” on January 13, 2015. This means that Microsoft stopped non-security updates. In extended support, Windows 7 is just receiving security updates. Those will stop on January 14, 2020. (Note that Windows 7 only receives security updates if you’ve installed Service Pack 1.)

Windows 8.1 left mainstream support on January 9, 2018, and will leave extended support on January 10, 2023.

You Should Upgrade Rather Than Using an Unsupported Windows

We don’t recommend using a release of Windows that’s no longer supported by Microsoft. It’s just not secure.

We recommend upgrading to a newer version of Windows. Don’t like Windows 10? Well, then consider switching to Linux, trying out a Chromebook, or buying a Mac.

By the way, while Windows 7 only has until January 14, 2020, you can still upgrade to Windows 10 for free from Windows 7 or 8 with this trick.

RELATED: You Can Still Get Windows 10 for Free With a Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 Key

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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