Windows 7: Dead or alive?

Far from being dead and buried, Windows 7 is set to remain alive and kicking in many organisations as they struggle with complex migration challenges

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A survey of 100 US and UK IT professionals conducted by Kollective one month before Microsoft’s deadline found that more than half of businesses (53%) are yet to complete their migration from Windows 7.

According to Kollective, nearly one in 10 IT teams could not say for sure whether their businesses had machines still running the outdated OS. The survey mirrors a recent report from Netmarketshare, which suggested that Windows 7 still runs on 39% of PCs.

John Gunning, general manager and vice-president at Dell responsible for the UK mid-market, said: “A substantial number of our customers have yet to migrate fully to Windows 10 due to the size of their business and complexity.” Although Microsoft has made Windows 10 compatible with Windows 7, in Gunning’s experience, 1% of applications do not migrate easily.

End of life effectively puts a stop to free Windows updates for Windows 7. On 16 December 2019, Microsoft issued this statement: “After 14 January 2020, technical assistance and software updates from Windows Update that help protect your PC will no longer be available for the product. Microsoft strongly recommends that you move to Windows 10 sometime before January 2020 to avoid a situation where you need service or support that is no longer available.”

However, organisations that remain on Windows 7 will still have access to the virus signature file for Microsoft Security Essentials.

Bernard Parsons, CEO at Becrypt said: “While Windows 7 will continue to work after 14 January 2020, those organisations that haven’t already should start planning to upgrade to Windows 10, or an alternative operating system as soon as possible, before cyber criminals see this as a weak point in their IT environments – which, over time, they surely will.”

Microsoft is providing extended support to keep Windows 7 alive until January 2023, but, as Kollective pointed out, these updates will come at a premium and will increase in price each year, leading to some hefty bills for businesses that fail to migrate. Looking back at the extended support costs for Windows XP in 2014, organisations had to pay $2m a year to keep 10,000 Windows XP PCs fully supported.

That said, Microsoft did issue an emergency Windows XP patch for the MS17-010 for the WannaCry ransomware exploit, although the download link to this patch is no longer live. 

Along with the obvious security concerns, Gunning said organisations looking to prioritise moving their older PCs over to Windows 10 should also take into account the lost work time and support required to keep ageing desktop IT infrastructure operating.

Read more about Windows 7 end of support

  • Organisations holding onto Windows 7 for dear life should reconsider because Microsoft stops supporting the OS in January. Here’s how to make the transition to Windows 10 smoother.
  • The end of support for Windows 7 should be seen as the end of an era for traditional desktop IT. So what does 21st century desktop productivity look like?

He urged small and mid-sized organisations to consider the positive impact of modernising their desktop PC estate. “Windows10 is transformed with enhanced security, which is important for small and mid-size businesses,” he said. “It is integrated with cloud service, which is essential if small and mid-size businesses want to meet the requirements of a growing workforce.”

Users themselves have higher expectations of the IT they use at work, said Gunning. “Users want easy, on-demand apps available now. While Windows 10 can work on older systems, such PCs represent a potential security hole.”

This is because of issues such as the Spectre and Meltdown chip flaws that affected PC processors in 2018. There have been firmware fixes, and new processors avoid the instruction optimisations that these breaches were able to exploit.

But, as Computer Weekly has reported, there have been supply chain issues affecting Intel processors, which has meant IT departments wanting to buy new Windows 10 PCs to replace hardware that may be five or more years old have faced difficulties getting their orders fulfilled.

Asked about the impact of the processor delays, Gunning said: “Everyone in the industry is aware of the Intel supply issues. At Dell, we have a broad range to help customers. We will have a solution to protect them and products that are compatible with Windows 10.”

Rather than rushing out to buy new business PCs to replace legacy Windows 7 machines, Gunning urged IT managers to consider a more holistic view of managing desktop IT before they migrate.

Changing desktop strategy

The change in desktop management strategy implicit in the Windows 7 to 10 upgrade also means organisations will need to continuously update their systems as part of Microsoft’s new “Windows as a service” model, according to Jon O’Connor, solution architect at Kollective.

“This means distributing increasingly frequent updates across their systems, more roll-outs and more network congestion – something many IT departments will find impossible due to outdated infrastructure,” he said. “If businesses fail to keep up with this rapid pace of change, they put themselves at serious risk of cyber attack.With the deadline now passed, future-proofing organisations for Windows 10 and future ‘as a service’ operating systems should be a number one priority – not just for IT teams, but for business leaders everywhere.”

As Dell’s Gunning said, although businesses can choose to upgrade their older hardware to Windows 10, which is clearly cheaper than buying new hardware – and does overcome the Intel processor supply issue – savings can quickly be eroded by higher desktop  IT support costs. 

There is also the option to dump Windows altogether, especially as, for some workers, a suite of cloud applications and Windows desktop virtualisation, accessed via a web browser, may be all they require. A legacy PC should be fully capable of supporting this, but with the end of support for Windows 7, businesses will need to install an alternative operating system to keep these machines operational.

Becrypt’s Parsons said: “Fortunately, for many there is an easy and cost-effective alternative, thanks to the ever-evolving world of open source, and of course the advances in cloud technology. Organisations that are running Windows 7 on their PCs should put plans in place to deal with the lack of support. Likewise, fortunately there are other options and routes to explore.”

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