Microsoft will stop supporting Windows 7 with security updates on January 14, 2020. It’s like Windows XP all over again—but much worse. Many more people are sticking with Windows 7 than stuck with XP.

Windows 7 Usage Is Still High

If you’re still using Windows 7, you’re not alone. According to Net Market Share, 35.63% of Windows users are still using Windows 7 as of December 2018. Windows 10 has 52.36% of Windows users.

Back in April 2013, when Windows XP just had a year left of support left, only 24.93% of Windows users were sticking with XP. A commanding 62.27% of desktop users were already running Windows 7.

Microsoft has a significant problem on its hands here. And Microsoft enters this home stretch with the biggest ever Windows 10 update mess ever on its hands, too. Microsoft is hardly making a case for Windows 10 to skeptical Windows 7 users.

Why End of Support Matters

End of support is a big deal. It means Microsoft will stop issuing security patches for problems in Windows 7, which will make Windows 7 systems increasingly vulnerable to attack. Security flaws that are found and fixed in newer versions of Windows will often affect Windows 7, too. This means attackers have a roadmap for assaulting Windows 7 systems, which will become less and less secure over time.

Microsoft’s end of support date will also encourage other companies to stop supporting Windows 7, too. Windows desktop applications will eventually stop supporting older versions of Windows. This likely won’t happen immediately, as Windows 7 isn’t anywhere near as long in the tooth as Windows XP was when it was left behind. But don’t be surprised when new applications or updates to your existing applications stop supporting Windows 7. You can’t use a modern web browser on Windows XP anymore, for example.

RELATED: What It Means When Microsoft Stops Supporting Your Version of Windows

What You Should Do

If you’re using Windows 7, you still have a year left to decide what you’re doing. Businesses and government agencies can pay for expensive extended support contracts to continue getting security patches if they need more than a year to migrate, but Microsoft is trying to get everyone onto newer versions of Windows.

When the time comes, you should seriously consider upgrading to Windows 10 rather than sticking with an unpatched and increasingly vulnerable Windows 7. There are still legal, official ways to get Windows 10 for free, even if you missed Microsoft’s big free upgrade offer. All you have to do is insert your Windows 7 product code while installing Windows 10.

If you’re annoyed about Windows 10—well, we understand. We aren’t here to push Windows 10. We do recommend it over sticking with the less secure Windows 7, but we’d also recommend installing Linux, getting a Chromebook, or switching to a Mac.

In short, we don’t recommend sticking with a vulnerable version of Windows for the long term.

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

But Isn’t Windows 10 Terrible?

While Windows 10 has a lot of low-level improvements and better hardware support, Microsoft has been struggling with update bugs and inserting more and more ads. Windows 10 is better than Windows 7 in many ways—but it’s also worse in other ways.

We’ve been critical of Windows 10, but we’ve also complimented it. It boots faster than Windows 7, has better support for modern hardware, is more stable out of the box, and is packed with useful security improvements. It even has smaller features geeks will find useful, like GPU usage information in the Task Manager and native ISO mounting in File Explorer.

Microsoft does have to clean up its act and stop breaking things. Windows 10’s October 2018 Update was the biggest disaster yet, but Microsoft is acting a little chastened. Hopefully, Microsoft can fix the Windows development process. And Microsoft is already making Windows 10 less annoying, providing a cleaner Start menu by default and letting users uninstall more built-in apps.

But, complaints about Windows 10 aside, we’d rather use a version of Windows supported by security patches than stick with Windows 7.

Let’s just put this into context: Most Windows 10 users haven’t run into these bugs. Most Windows 10 systems out there are working just fine. Most Windows 10 users still aren’t even using the buggy October 2018 Update. (Just don’t click “Check for Updates”!)

We’re not excusing Microsoft’s record here. We should all expect better from them. But do keep in mind that despite these problems being widely reported, most Windows 10 users never encountered them.

Can You Keep Using Windows 7?

Technically, you can keep using Windows 7. Microsoft won’t suddenly deactivate it and stop it from working overnight—that only happens with unstable builds of Windows.

You can still use Windows XP today, too. But it isn’t getting new security patches, and software companies have been dropping support for it. Even Valve’s Steam gaming service just stopped working on Windows XP—and that’s despite Steam still selling some games that were designed for, and work best on, Windows XP. New hardware often won’t work with Windows 7 today, and that’ll only get worse.

The Internet is a messy, dangerous place. We strongly recommend you use a modern, secure operating system that has the latest security patches installed, whatever that operating system may be.

You Still Have a Year!

Let’s not get too apocalyptic yet, though. You still have a year of security patches left for Windows 7. That means Microsoft has a year to get its act together and get better at updating Windows 10 without causing problems, too.

And, if you really wish Windows 10 didn’t update so much, you can always get Windows 10 Professional and delay updates. Most of the bugs will get worked out before those updates reach your PC.

Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor in Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for nearly a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than 500 million times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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