Microsoft is continuously releasing new iterations of Windows. Therefore, the support afforded to each version can only last for so long.
For example, Microsoft no longer provides support for Windows XP (released over 17 years ago).
Support for Windows 7 (released over 9 years) is on its last legs; Windows 7 is on extended support till January 2020, the date after which Microsoft will not provide any form of support for it.
Microsoft uses some interesting terms to define the level of support it provides to different versions of its operating system. Mainstream support and extended support appear quite often. You are about to find out what they mean.
What is Mainstream Support for Windows?
Mainstream support is the top-level package. After Microsoft releases an operating system version, it provides mainstream support for that iteration of Windows for 5 years. When an operating system version is on mainstream support, it will receive all available updates (security-related updates and feature-rich upgrades). Furthermore, users with systems running it will enjoy free assistance in fixing issues via telephone or web chats, and so on.
Basically, users with devices running versions of Windows on mainstream support will be afforded the standard privileges at no cost to them.
What is Extended Support for Windows?
After mainstream support ends (typically after 5 years since the release of a specific Windows operating system version), the OS automatically ends up with the extended backing. With this support level in place, Microsoft will continue to provide security updates but will now ask users to pay for any extra assistance, support, or help.
Some categories of organizations or big businesses might be able to request fixes for bugs that have nothing to do with security if they are ready to pay for them.
From what has been said, you might have figured out that mainstream support is the best package available. Nevertheless, extended support is hardly terrible. Users still get free security updates on extended support, and this is what matters the most.
It is a different thing entirely when an operating system version loses all forms of support. Perhaps, it is time you found out the answer to this question: is it bad if Microsoft stopped supporting my Windows OS?
So, what happens after Microsoft stops supporting a specific Windows operating system version?
Users will stop getting security updates:
When Microsoft stops providing support for a specific version of Windows, its engineers stop releasing security updates for the OS. It is all understandable. Microsoft always wants people to update to the latest version of its operating system, and the discontinuation of updates is as good encouragement as it gets.
For example, users or organizations with systems running Windows Vista or Windows XP do not get updates. Computers running Windows 8 also do not receive updates (unless their OS gets updated to Windows 8.1). Windows 8 is no longer supported by Microsoft.
Windows 7 is still a relatively popular operating system even with the versions of Windows that have come after it. By 14 January 2020, it will have run out of time, though. Microsoft will stop supporting it. If you have a device running Windows 7, you will do well to upgrade it to Windows 10 before the stated date.
Even if critical security holes or vulnerabilities get discovered in Windows 7 after the end of its support period, Microsoft is unlikely to issue updates to patch them. In general, your best bet towards protecting the operating system environment would be to rely heavily on security programs like antiviruses.
Unfortunately, the defense or protection setup provided by even the most powerful antiviruses might not be enough. Antiviruses are hardly perfect, to be fair, and it is easy to see why they cannot make up for deep security holes in the code of an operating system.
Besides running security programs, you will still have to take other relevant precautions. You must try as much as possible to update your apps frequently and ensure you install software with the latest security updates.
Nevertheless, there is only so much you can do to stay safe (once Microsoft cuts off support for your Windows operating system version). Even the security programs helping you will gradually (and eventually) drop support for your OS. It simply costs far too much to run ancient versions of Windows.
Regular users are hardly going to be the only ones affected by Microsoft’s support policy of stopping updates. Large organizations too are hard done by it. However, some big firms are known to pay Microsoft to get security updates.
They sign deals or contracts that ensure Microsoft issues security updates for their devices while they work to get them to run newer versions of Windows. In any case, Microsoft would want this transition period to be as short as possible, so the fee for the custom support often rises going forward.
This way, firms have enough incentive or encouragement to move to a more recent version of Windows. Nevertheless, Microsoft, in theory, will continue to make security updates. You just will not get them, though.
Developers will stop supporting it:
Microsoft is hardly alone in making important changes to signify the end of the support period for an operating system version. Most software firms take note of such dates or events. They too will stop providing support for that old version of Windows with their programs.
Well, the changes we are referring to here might not commence immediately, but they will eventually take place.
For example, Microsoft ended support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014, but Chrome continued to provide support for its app on that platform until sometime in April 2016.
In other words, Google eventually stopped supporting its browser on Windows XP devices roughly 2 years after Microsoft cut it off its support base. Firefox held out for much longer. Mozilla ended its support for Windows XP in June 2018.
Well, you might come across firms that still provide support for their programs running on Windows XP devices, but this does not mean much. Steam, for example, is one of those companies still breathing life into machines running Windows Vista or Windows XP, but it will officially drop all support for these platforms on January 1, 2019.
Now, we can safely state that a handful of software companies will continue to provide support for Windows 7 even after the end of its support period. However, all firms will eventually give up after a few years.
We only say this because Windows 7 was a relatively popular OS (or it still is). Windows Vista, on the other hand, was one of the unpopular Windows versions, so we were not surprised to see developers on average dropping support for it more quickly.
New hardware devices might not work (compatibility issues):
A good number of new hardware devices or peripherals will struggle to work on your device if it is running an old or unsupported version of Windows. After all, hardware devices rely on drivers to function, but most manufacturers have little interest in creating hardware drivers for operating system versions not supported by Microsoft.
For example, you cannot use the latest processor platforms from Intel on Windows 7 or even Windows 8.1 due to lack of support. Interesting, those builds of Windows are still on the extended support platform, but it seems Intel (a major chip manufacturer) already wants nothing to do with them.
You will have fewer choices in terms of which hardware devices you can purchase due to the chances of them not working on your system. The best thing you can do is continue to use your current hardware and software. You must expect no guarantees on future upgrades or compatibility.
When will Microsoft stop supporting my version of Windows?
Even if you do not like Microsoft support policy on old versions of Windows, you cannot hold other things against them. For one, they define the end-of-support dates well ahead of time. This way, they ensure that the cessation of support is never a surprise.
You can find all the dates or information on the Windows lifecycle fact sheet. There, you will see all you need to know to understand how long Microsoft plans to support your version of Windows with security or feature updates.
We cannot help but give Microsoft some credit here. At least, this firm does enough to define a clear policy to inform users and other stakeholders on how things will go with their version of Windows.
On the other hand, some other operating system manufacturers (Apple especially) often fail to propose a clear policy. They simply stop supporting older versions of their OS when they feel like it or when they deem it necessary. Users are more likely to be left out in the cold this way.
What does Microsoft support of a specific operating system version even mean?
If we are to consider actual technical terms, we can safely say there are multiple types of support. Here, we are going to use Windows 10 (since it is the latest version of Windows) as our reference operating system version.
Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro editions make up the standard consumer versions of Windows 10 (the build available to regular users). Microsoft provides these versions of Windows with feature updates roughly every 6 months. Furthermore, it services the updates on those builds for 18 months. By servicing, we are referring to Microsoft’s provision of security updates for 18 months.
Nevertheless, users can (or have to) continue getting security updates after the 18 months have gone by. All they have to do is upgrade to the next Windows 10 release. Given the automatic update mechanism introduced in Windows 10, the vast majority of users get the upgrades anyway since their systems will most likely download and install the necessary files without much input from them.
- If your system is still running an old version of Windows 10, Microsoft will not issue updates for it. For example, Microsoft does not provide updates for computers still using the Windows 10 Creators Update. To be fair, Microsoft already ended support for it on October 9, 2018. The Windows 10 Creators Update was released on April 5, 2017.
Computers running business or enterprise editions of Windows 10 have things a lot better as regards the support lifecycle for their versions of Windows 10. Microsoft services those categories of updates for considerably longer periods. Firms with systems running the Windows 10 Long Term Servicing Branch enjoy support lifecycles longer than you think.
- Considering Windows 7 and Microsoft previous policies, we cannot ignore the occurrence of some changes. We know too well that Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7 on January 13, 2015. In other words, Microsoft stopped issuing non-security (or feature) updates for that version of Windows on the stated date.
Windows 7 is now on the extended support program, and this means Windows 7 only gets security updates. However, Microsoft plans to end all support by January 14, 2020. In any case, your device must be running the latest Windows 7 version (Service Pack 1) if it is to receive even the security updates till that date.
- Windows 8.1 got cut of the mainstream support program on January 8, 2018. Microsoft has stated it will lose its extended support privileges on January 10, 2023.
Note: Microsoft is capable of extending the dates if they want to. They have done so in the past, but it is best not to count on it. In theory, they are committed to those dates at the moment barring unforeseen changes or events that could compel them to do things differently. In other words, Microsoft will not cut off support for a specific Windows operating system version before the stated date.
If you realize Microsoft has ended all forms of support for the version of Windows your device is running, you will do well to update your system to a newer version. We are firmly against you using a release or iteration of Windows that is no longer supported by Microsoft. It is just not secure; the risks at play are far too significant to ignore.
The security of your system should be of utmost importance to you. In any case, you can check out Auslogics Anti-Malware. The recommended program will go a long way in assisting your PC to keep viruses and other malicious items out of your system.
Even if you have an antivirus running already on your computer, you cannot go wrong with the introduction of an additional security program to enhance your current protection setup. Such improvements to the defense against threats are always welcomed.