Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, May 21, 2019

Microsoft’s Windows 7 desktop operating system went “end of life” on January 14, 2020. What does this dramatic-sounding statement really mean? Is it really dead, a viable product or somewhere in between?

First off, let’s define what end of life, or EOL, really means. For Microsoft, and just about every software vendor out there, EOL means that public technical support will no longer be available for the products in question.

Big deal, you say, I never call tech support, and there’s still a wealth of information on the web — including Microsoft’s own knowledge base — which I can rely upon if I ever have a problem.

Unfortunately, Microsoft already has pulled its engineers from participating in its online forums for Windows 7 (and 8). The forums are still active; there just isn’t anyone from Microsoft actively participating.

But the most pertinent piece of “no tech support” is that software updates, patches and hot fixes will no longer be available. This is especially crucial in these days when multiple new security breaches crop up every day. Merely running Windows 7 will represent a huge vulnerability to cyberattacks.

EOL has a ripple effect. While the operating system itself may be functioning properly, you might have difficulty adding new applications. Application software vendors are loath to support EOL operating systems because even they can’t get technical support.

Similarly, even hardware vendors are in the same boat. Already, there is evidence that printers and other peripherals don’t work with Windows 7. This is because the vendors aren’t developing drivers (the software interface between Windows and the device) for Windows 7. Even existing drivers aren’t being updated, so if there is a bug in the driver, well … sucks to be you.

What if something should go wrong? Your organization could be crippled for days, if not weeks, trying to recover. Sure, Microsoft might offer you a custom solution to fix the issue, but when past products have gone EOL, they’ve done this only for large organizations and at a relatively high cost.

Windows 7 has achieved almost cultlike status in the Microsoft world. Folks almost universally hated Windows 8 and its immediate successor, 8.1. Microsoft responded with the release of Windows 10 more than a year sooner than typically expected. While much of the criticism of Windows 10 is petty, and often done to appear trendy, many information technology professionals and consumers alike have resisted the upgrade. As a result, by Microsoft’s own estimates, there are still about 46 million devices running Windows 7!

So, what to do? Let’s face it, if you are still on Windows 7, you are running software that is more than 10 years old. Very few things in this disposable age last that long. It’s time to make a change. Do you need to do it today? No, but you need to have a plan in place and a sense of urgency. Upgrading to Windows 10 is no longer free, and the vast majority of computers running Windows 7 are nearing, if not well past, their useful life. There will be costs associated with the migration, whether new computers or just licenses. You need to figure out those costs and plan accordingly.