Windows 7 Enters Its Final Year of Support
Key Microsoft products, including Windows 7, are due to lose support next year.
Both Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 will fall out of "extended support" roughly a year from now, on Jan. 14, 2020. In addition, Office 2010 will lose support on Oct. 13, 2020. The end of support for SQL Server 2008 Service Pack 4 is set for July 9, 2019.
A list of Microsoft products losing support in 2020 can be found at this lifecycle support page. Another helpful compilation for IT pros can be found in this Twitter series by Jeff Woolsey, a principal program manager for Windows Server at Microsoft.
Windows 7 Options
Microsoft will no longer issue security updates for Windows 7 SP1 after Jan. 14, 2020. Continuing to run the OS after that date represents a potential risk for organizations and individuals since unpatched flaws could get exploited by attackers. Microsoft stopped Windows 7 sales a few years ago.
Windows 10, Microsoft's "forever OS," will be the next jump for many. Windows 10 has already taken the market lead away from Windows 7 in some Internet polling.
In September, Microsoft introduced a new Windows 7 "Extended Security Updates" program for Windows 7 holdouts that can't make the immediate shift to Windows 10. The program pushes out support for security updates by three years past the 2020 deadline. Costs for the Windows 7 Extended Security Updates program haven't been publicized by Microsoft, but the cost is said to increase every year for the participants.
Microsoft has a similar Extended Security Updates program established for SQL Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008. This program also lets organizations get Extended Security Updates for three years past the product's end of extended support date. It can be done by moving workloads onto Azure virtual machines at no extra charge or it can be done for on-premises workloads if the servers have Software Assurance coverage for 75 percent of the licensing cost annually. Such details are described in Microsoft's FAQ document on Extended Security Updates (PDF download), or this blog post by Dave Bermingham, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional. When moving workloads to Azure virtual machines, it's possible to use the Azure Hybrid Benefit program to get a discount based on existing licensing.
It's also possible for large organizations to get "custom support" agreements from Microsoft that extend the period in which Microsoft provides hotfixes for Windows 7 for a year. However, these agreements aren't cheap. Custom support was thought to cost about $200 per device for a minimum of 750 devices per year back when Window XP had fallen out of support. The costs aren't clear because Microsoft doesn't publish its custom support pricing.
Windows 10 and Hardware
The jump to Windows 10 for organizations and individuals likely will require hardware upgrades, too. It's possible to perform an "in-place upgrade" from Windows 7 to Windows 10, in which the underlying OS of a machine gets replaced by Windows 10 bits. However, it would best to check with an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) first to see if it may work before trying that approach.
Microsoft lists the hardware requirements for Windows 10 here, but it's deceptive to base upgrades from Windows 7 on that list. PCs can have hardware that meets Microsoft's upgrade requirements for Windows 10 but also are not compatible somehow.
The other problem with upgrading existing hardware running Windows 7 is that Windows 10's lifecycle support is based, in part, on how long the hardware components, such as processors, are supported by OEM vendors like AMD, ARM and Intel. This somewhat obscure requirement is tersely described under the "Windows Silicon Policy" subhead in this Windows lifecycle FAQ article. The requirement likely means that if your processor is 5 years old or so, there's no guarantee that Windows 10 will work with it.
So most individuals will face buying new hardware with Windows 10 by the looming Jan. 14, 2020 date. Most organizations, on the other hand, face building images for new machines, unless they've mentally gotten up to speed with Windows Autopilot, Microsoft's relatively new scheme where images and drivers are held in the cloud. Windows Autopilot permits new Windows 10 PCs to be shipped directly to end users, who carry out the provisioning themselves. OEMs that support Microsoft's Windows Autopilot program include Dell, HP, Lenovo, Microsoft (with its Surface PCs) and Toshiba. Acer and Panasonic are expected to participate, as well, according to Microsoft.
'Windows as a Service'
IT pros also likely will face more work with Windows 10 than with preceding Windows OSes as they'll now be on Microsoft's "Windows as a service" upgrade treadmill. With Windows as a service, new OS upgrades (known as "channel" releases) arrive more frequently, twice a year in the spring and fall.
IT pros running the Windows 10 Pro edition will have 18 months of support before needing to upgrade the OS, which can be done via an in-place upgrade. Users of the Enterprise or Education editions of Windows 10 have up to 30 months before needing to make the upgrade jump, but they must follow the September-targeted release cycle to get that amount of time, according to a new policy change that Microsoft announced last year.
Organizations are advised by Microsoft to address Windows 10's more frequent upgrades by setting up "testing rings" for end users and by participating in the Windows Insider Program to test new OS features beforehand. It's a potentially disruptive and time-consuming change for short-handed IT departments.
As a consequence of Windows-as-a-service demands, many IT shops may be considering adopting the "long-term servicing channel" of Windows 10. The long-term serving channel is much like the old service-pack model of Windows 7, where an OS release gets supported for up to 10 years. Microsoft, though, doesn't recommend the long-term servicing channel for businesses. It's deemed for use with medical devices or devices that can't tolerate frequent updates.
These sorts of issues for IT pros, and the temptations to veer toward the long-term servicing channel of Windows 10, were recently discussed in this talk by Bruno Nowak, a product marketing director for Windows Commercial.
IT pros also face handling larger file sizes with Windows 10 updates, both in terms of the monthly updates (2G to 3GB) and the semiannual updates (6GB to 11GB) that arrive, a prospect discussed by Microsoft officials in this article.
Microsoft has been taking steps to reduce its Windows 10 update sizes. Next year, Microsoft will carve out a Reserved Storage space for new Windows 10 PCs to avoid potential space problems from updates on machines with small hard disks or small solid-state drives. Windows 10 update sizes are getting halved for x64 systems managed by Windows Server Update Services. Microsoft is also working to reduce the size of its monthly "quality" updates.
Ready for Windows 10?
An industry survey sponsored by cloud peering service provider Kollective found that about 43 percent of enterprises are still running Windows 7 on some machines. In terms of migration progress to Windows 10, the survey found that 29 percent are "barely a third of the way" complete.
The survey polled 260 "IT decision makers" in the United States and the United Kingdom. Almost half (46 percent) of the respondents didn't have a plan to manage the Windows-as-a-service updates coming with Windows 10. Moreover, a third of the survey respondents hadn't prepared their infrastructures for the "rise in updates" associated with Windows 10.
The latter topic is of note for Kollective as it offers a software-defined enterprise content delivery network service, which aims to alleviate software delivery woes.
Unsurprisingly, the survey found that most organizations (79 percent) don't install operating system updates when they first arrive. About 53 percent of respondents said they waited at least a month before applying them.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.