Microsoft Support for Windows 7 ends in January 2020
It may seem like only five minutes since XP and then Vista were retired, but now it’s the turn of Windows 7. Let’s be clear that Windows 7 will not stop working in January, and start queueing up for its pension instead. What will happen is that Microsoft will no longer release new updates to Windows 7 after January 2020 – and that includes security updates.
When this situation arose with Windows XP, people such as me advised that you immediately stop using XP. To be more accurate, we said that it was no longer safe to connect XP machines to the internet. The perceived threat was that malware writers, and others who would now be called “bad actors”, would increase their efforts to find security holes in XP that they could exploit, knowing that Microsoft wouldn’t respond to try to counteract the threat. And what happened in practice? Nothing. For a long time it looked as if the perceived threat was exaggerated. The world didn’t come to a calamitous end. And then, on 12th May 2017, NHS computers (amongst others) started suffering an attack from the malware known as Wannacry.
So, is it safe or unsafe to continue to use Windows 7? Should you upgrade your existing hardware to Windows 10? Should you buy new hardware?
Carry on and hope for the best
Support for Windows XP finished on 8th April 2014. It took three years for “Wannacry” to wreak havoc (although there were, of course, other viruses and threats in the meantime). One option now would be to continue to run your current Windows 7 system in order to get some more value from it. If you choose this route then the most important (if obvious) advice is to be very rigorous in taking backups and – essentially – ensure that your backups are not permanently connected to your system. Ransomware like Wannacry can access all connected local drives. I would also advise not sharing files with other users (such as via email attachments or shared Dropbox folders, for instance). Continuing to run Windows 7 is a risky strategy, and the risk will probably increase as time goes on. It is also absolutely essential to have continually-updated antivirus protection. By the way, never install a second antivirus program in the (intuitive) belief that what one will miss the other will catch. They could fall out with each other and either slow your system down or cause freezes.
Upgrade an existing system to Windows 10
You can almost certainly upgrade your existing hardware. Follow this link to see Microsoft’s official minimum hardware requirements for Wndows 10. If you want to go down that route, the official price of Windows 10 Home is £119.99. There are also plenty of online sites offering to sell it for much less. Some sites even say that it is still possible to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. I don’t know if these options are genuine, legal, or viable. Caveat emptor.
There is, in theory at least, an option to update your existing system to Windows 10 without needing to re-install your other programs or data. However, I would most definitely recommend backing up your data first (that’s your own stuff such as documents, pictures, pdf files etc). You might also find that some programs that worked under Windows 7 either need updating, re-installing, or won’t work at all under Windows 10.
Upgrade existing hardware and install Windows 10 at the same time
You might consider, for instance, changing an old hard drive for a (much faster) solid state drive, and then installing Windows 10 on this new SSD. You would then need to reinstall your programs and data. If you have a desktop computer with a spare drive bay, you could install your old drive (with data) into this bay. You probably don’t have this option with a laptop. Your programs would still need to be re-installed onto the solid state drive. While you’ve got the thing in bits, it would also be a good idea to see if the system could benefit from increased memory (RAM).
Replace the hardware
This might seem the obvious and easiest solution (if the most expensive). You would. of course, have to install your programs and data onto the new machine.
How much does it all cost?
You could currently buy a Samsung 1tb (1 terabyte) SSD from Amazon for £120. I recommend not getting a SSD of less than 500gb capacity (500gb is half a terabyte). The price of RAM depends on what type it is, how much you buy, and whether you need to discard your existing RAM to make way for the new. Think in terms of £30-£80 to increase from 4gb to 8gb (16gb is better!). Windows 10 Home, as noted above, costs £119.99.
If you are doing it yourself there probably aren’t any other costs (although it’s just possible that a very old printer won’t play nicely with Windows 10). If you live in London and ask me to help out, then my rates are explained here. To be honest, it’s unlikely that it would be cost effective to ask me to help upgrade an existing machine. By the time you’ve added anything from 2-6 hours of my time to the outlay on any hardware plus the software, you would probably have been better off investing in a new machine with Windows 10 already installed. I would, of course, be happy to help you set up a new machine, including data transfer etc. That usually takes 2-4 hours.
So, there you have it. People complain about built-in obsolescence, being forced to upgrade, etc. The fact is that this is still a relatively fast moving technology. We must expect products (including software) to have a relatively short lifecycle in such an environment. And, to add a bit of perspective to this, Windows 7 was released on 22nd July 2009. It’s been going for 10 years. Is that really such a short product lifecycle? I think not.