Boxed copies of Windows 7 Professional and Home Premium.

Microsoft released Windows 7 in October 2009. Now, more than a decade later, it’s being retired. Your Windows 7 PCs will keep working, but Microsoft is no longer issuing security patches as of January 14, 2020.

Can I Still Use Windows 7?

Windows 7 will keep working normally, just like Windows XP does. If you have a PC running Windows 7 or Windows XP, you can use it on January 15, 2020, just as you could on January 13, 2020. Microsoft won’t stop you from using your PC. You may see some nags informing you that “Your Windows 7 PC is out of support,” but that’s it.

We recommend you avoid using Windows 7. If you do keep using this operating system, it’s now especially important that you have security software (like an antivirus) installed and take steps to secure your PC.

RELATED: RIP Windows 7: We're Going to Miss You

So What Changes?

Windows 7 PC out of support message from Microsoft.

Now that Microsoft has axed support, Windows 7 will no longer get security patches. In other words, Microsoft won’t release any new security patches to Windows Update.

Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 10 are all built on the same underlying architecture. Often, security holes are found for all recent versions of Windows. Now, when attackers find such a security hole and Microsoft patches it, those patches will be applied only to Windows 8 and 10. Windows 7 will still have an open security hole that attackers know about.

With the end of official support, software developers will receive the signal that they shouldn’t keep supporting Windows 7. Many web browsers and other software tools have dropped support for Windows XP in their latest versions. Windows 7 will eventually meet the same fate. For now, Google says it will keep supporting Chrome on Windows 7 until at least July 15, 2021.

Can I Get Security Patches Somehow?

Downloading updates from Windows Update on Windows 7.

Windows 7 support hasn’t ended completely. Microsoft will still offer “extended security updates” for it, but only to organizations like businesses and governments—and only if those organizations pay an ever-increasing fee. That fee is designed to encourage organizations to upgrade.

There’s no way to pay extra for security updates if you’re a home user. Many people have asked us if this is an option, but Microsoft only offers them to organizations.

It’s possible that, if a particularly dangerous security hole is found, Microsoft will patch it anyway. The company released a patch for a bad security hole in Windows XP in 2019. Unfortunately, this patch was not delivered through Windows Update, so you had to hear about it before downloading and installing it manually. Many Windows XP systems in the wild are still vulnerable. That’s the kind of future that awaits Windows 7 users.

RELATED: How Windows 7's "Extended Security Updates" Will Work

Will It Really Be Dangerous?

Is continuing to use Windows 7 dangerous? Well, that depends. It likely won’t be too dangerous on January 15, 2020. But, as more time goes by, you’ll be using a version of Windows with more and more unpatched security holes that attackers know about. Eventually, browsers and other applications you use will drop support for your operating system. You’ll be stuck using out-of-date browsers, and that is especially dangerous. Without browser security patches, a malicious website could compromise your system after you open a web page.

The internet is a dangerous place filled with increasingly sophisticated attacks, and we always recommend using up-to-date software with the latest security patches. We encourage you to upgrade from Windows 7.

Will Software Keep Working on Windows 7?

Most applications will continue running on Windows 7 for the immediate future. But expect to see applications gradually stop working on it over the next few years.

For example, Valve’s Steam gaming service dropped support for Windows XP and Vista on January 1, 2019. In a few years, we’d expect to see Steam drop support for Windows 7 as well.

Some applications have already dropped support for Windows 7. For example, Microsoft Office 2019 only supports Windows 10 and not Windows 7 or 8.

I Still Have a Windows 7 PC, What Should I Do?

Installing Windows 10 on a Windows 7 system.

We recommend you upgrade and get off Windows 7. That may mean installing a new operating system on your current hardware—or you may want to buy a new PC.

To keep using your current PC, you have a few options:

  • Upgrade to Windows 10 For Free: Despite Microsoft no longer advertising the free upgrade offer, it’s still available. You can upgrade a PC to Windows 10 for free as long as it has a legitimate, activated Windows 7 or 8 system installed. Here’s how to take advantage. We don’t know how long this free upgrade trick will continue working. It was still working as of January 13, 2020.
  • Install Linux on Your PC: Don’t want to upgrade to Windows 10? You can always install a Linux distribution like Ubuntu. It’s free, supports the latest web browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox, and will continue getting security updates for a long time to come. Sure, it sounds drastic—but you have an option if you want to use a supported OS on your PC without upgrading to Windows 10.

If your PC is getting too long in the tooth, it may just be time to buy a new PC. If you haven’t upgraded your hardware in the last seven years since Windows 8 was released, you’ll find that modern PCs (especially ones with solid-state storage) offer dramatically improved performance and much longer battery life.

That doesn’t mean you have to buy a Windows 10 PC if you don’t like it—Chromebooks, Macs, and iPads are all excellent options for many people. Whatever you do, though, we recommend getting off Windows 7.

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

But I Need Windows 7 For Something!

Windows 7 support end date nag message on desktop

If you still need Windows 7 to run critical software or hardware that doesn’t support modern versions of Windows, we recommend restricting your use of Windows 7. You should also ensure security software is installed.

For example, to run software that requires Windows 7, you might run Windows 7 in a virtual machine on Windows 10 or another operating system. To run hardware that requires Windows 7, you might leave Windows 7 installed on a computer plugged directly into the critical hardware device and use another PC for activities that don’t need Windows 7.

If possible, you could even “air gap” your Windows 7 system. You’d leave it offline and avoid connecting it to the network. It’d be isolated from attacks and couldn’t be c compromised and turned against other systems on your network. That would improve your online security.

Windows 7 Still Works, But It’s Time to Move On

If you use Windows 7, you can still keep using it. Heck, you can even install Windows 7 on a new system. Windows Update will still download all the patches Microsoft released before ending support. Things will keep working on January 15, 2020 nearly the same as they did on January 13, 2020.

But Windows 7 is now the new Windows XP, and it will become increasingly full of known security holes while software developers stop supporting it. It’s time to upgrade.

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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