In what must surely be the most reported-on development in the world of operating systems — if for nothing else, then because most of us tech journalists have written at least half a dozen different articles on it so far! — Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 today. Yes, officially. Yes, irrevocably. Yes, for real this time. See, the Redmond giant has actually ended support for Windows 7 in 2015 (but extended support lasted until 2020) and Windows 8 in 2018 (but extended support lasted until yesterday). Because of the large number of people, companies and organizations still using both operating systems, though, several critical updates and patches have been released in the meantime.
This could not possibly go on for ever. So now even the ridiculously expensive enterprise-specific extended support for Windows 7 and Windows 8 is ended and there will be no more security updates or patches for either OS (nor for Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge running on them). Any new software threats that might appear in the form of malware, ransomware, virus etc. from now on will not be mitigated on Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1, assuming that one feels brave enough to keep using a ten- or twelve-year-old operating system in this day and age of zero-day attacks and ultra-fast connections, that is.
Problem is: there are many, many people who either aren’t aware of the risk or simply don’t want to stop using the PCs these operating systems run on. How many? Extrapolating from Microsoft’s estimates of about 1.4 billion “Windows devices in use” last year, as well as from StatCounter’s estimates regarding the market share of Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 (11.2% and 3.2% respectively), then more than 200 million people around the world use computers now unprotected from any future security threats.
This is obviously a very attractive target for hackers and a huge security issue for the Windows ecosystem as a whole, especially for enterprises still using PCs with these two and other Windows versions on the same network. Fortunately there are not many of those enterprises left in the US, Canada and Europe — still, some — but in less technologically developed countries it’s actually not uncommon to see Windows 7 machines chugging along in small businesses or even government offices. These will be replaced, eventually, but in the here and now — for the foreseeable future, if one wants to be honest about it — they present a serious security problem with no easy solution in sight.
The good news is that computers with the kind of processing power 12-year-old PCs used to offer are now extremely cheap to buy — and all of them come with Windows 11… for better or worse — so it’s easier than ever to just play it safe, recycle such a PC and get a new one. Even the most basic of Windows 11-based computers today are capable of handling mainstream, everyday tasks. The tricky part, of course, is to convince most of those millions of consumers or workers who still use their Windows 7/8/8.1-based PCs that it’s time to abandon those machines and spend money towards new models. It will be interesting to see how this goes as the global economy is supposedly heading for another recession, no?