A sepia-toned Windows 7 desktop background logo.

Windows 7 isn’t long for this world. On January 14, 2020, Microsoft ends “extended support” for Windows 7, and it will stop getting security updates. But there’s a way around it: Paying for “Extended Security Updates.”

Normal Security Updates End on January 14, 2020

First released on October 22, 2009, Windows 7 is nearing its tenth anniversary. On January 14, 2020, Windows 7 will leave “extended support.” Microsoft will stop issuing routine security updates, and software developers will eventually stop supporting it with recent versions of their software. New hardware may not function on Windows 7 if hardware manufacturers don’t do the work to support it specifically.

Basically, it’s Windows XP all over again. Windows 7 might have more staying power, but it’ll gradually get left behind by software and hardware developers. More security holes will be found in it—many of the same flaws found in Windows 10 affect Windows 7—and Microsoft won’t patch them. This old operating system will become less secure. Microsoft has been warning people about this for years, and now the date is nearly upon us.

RELATED: How to Avoid Windows 7's End-of-Support Nags

Microsoft May Issue Some Free Security Updates

Windows 7 support end date nag message on the desktop.

If Windows XP has taught us anything, it’s that Microsoft may release some security updates for Windows 7 to everyone anyway.

Even in 2019, five years after support expired, Microsoft took the rare step of issuing a security update for Windows XP. The Windows Update pipeline for XP had been apparently long been shut down, so Windows XP users have to download and install this update manually—but it was available.

Still, Microsoft hasn’t patched all the security holes for Windows XP. The company won’t patch them all for Windows 7, either. Particularly bad holes—like the Windows XP flaw that could enable a worm to spread across the internet by infecting those old Windows XP machines—may be patched. But don’t rely on getting security updates for most flaws Microsoft patches in other versions of Windows.

Organizations Can Get Extended Security Updates

The average home computer user should leave Windows 7 behind and upgrade to a modern, supported version of Windows like Windows 10. If you have software or hardware that requires Windows 7, consider isolating that Windows 7 machine from the internet or running that software in a virtual machine on a modern version of Windows.

For businesses that need more time before upgrading, Microsoft sells “Extended Security Updates.” In other words: Microsoft will continue creating security updates, but you can only get them if you pay up.

These are designed as a stopgap. These updates will get more expensive every year. Microsoft wants businesses, governments, and other organizations to move to a modern version of Windows. That financial cost will hopefully encourage it.

Home Users Can’t Buy Them

Windows Update in the Control Panel on Windows 7.

The average Windows 7 user can’t buy these updates, however. They’re only available to businesses and other organizations.

Some good news: Instead of just being available to large companies with volume licensing agreements, Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESUs) will be available to businesses of any size—even small or mid-size companies.

Microsoft won’t sell you these updates directly, and they’re not available through normal retail channels. According to Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft officials said these ESUs must be purchased “from qualified Cloud Solution Provider partners.” A Microsoft blog post about Windows 7 support invites interested parties to “Please reach out to your partner or Microsoft account team for further details.”

How Much Will Extended Security Updates Cost?

Just because you can buy them doesn’t mean you should. Microsoft doesn’t release the price list publically. Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley has some details, although she believes these prices may be negotiable.

For organizations with Windows 7 Enterprise, updates will cost $25 per device in the first year, $50 per device in the second year, and $100 per device in the third. This is an “add-on” to a Windows volume license agreement.

Organizations with Windows 7 Pro devices will pay $50 per device in the first year, $100 per device in the second, and $200 per device in the third. This doesn’t require a volume licensing agreement.

Microsoft’s documentation states that no minimum purchase is necessary—technically, you could just pay for updates for a single device.

With Windows 7 still installed on over 35% of PCs by some estimates, many organizations will no doubt pay for those extended security updates.

Luckily, if you’re a home user, you can still upgrade to Windows 10 for free—although Microsoft doesn’t publish 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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