Last week, Microsoft dropped a Friday afternoon bombshell regarding changes to its Windows support strategy that could affect business users' Windows 10 upgrade and/or new PC purchase plans.
Today, January 22, Microsoft is following up on last week's announcement by publishing a promised list of Skylake PCs that Microsoft and OEMs will guarantee to support fully only through July 2017 when running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.
Last week, Microsoft went public with an abbreviated list of eight Skylake-based PCs that it would support fully through 2017. Today, that list has expanded to more than 100 devices. (Links to today's more complete list are further down in this post.)
Here's the back story for those trying to keep up with these doings at home.
Before Microsoft's January 15 announcement, business users expected to be able to buy new Skylake/Intel sixth generation Core PCs and, if wanted and needed, downgrade them to Windows 7 or 8.1, yet remain supported by Microsoft. Windows 7 SP1 is currently in extended support, meaning Microsoft had said it would provide users with all security updates and fixes on that operating system until January 14, 2020. Windows 8.1's period of extended support isn't/wasn't set to end until January 10, 2023.
But last week, Microsoft abruptly changed its support guarantee. As long as users were running older processors -- those in Intel's Haswell family, for example -- the same support cutoff dates remained for Windows 7 and 8.1. But users who wanted, for various compatibility/test/budgetary reasons, want to run 7 or 8.1 on Skylake or newer processors now faced a much shorter support runway.
The key change: Through July 17, 2017, only those Skylake devices on the "supported" list will be supported with Windows 7 and 8.1. And this is only meant to be a bridge; the guidance is for users to go Windows 10 after that point.
"After July 2017, the most critical Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 security updates will be addressed for these configurations, and will be released if the update does not risk the reliability or compatibility of the Windows 7/8.1 platform on other devices," Microsoft execs said.
(We don't really know exactly what that statement means, and I'm guessing neither does Microsoft at this point.)
Microsoft execs said the list will be updated by OEMs and Microsoft as new models of various devices are released.
To be on this list, systems meet the following criteria:
"For each of the supported systems listed on the OEM pages, the OEM has committed to additional testing, regular validation of Windows Updates, and publishing drivers and firmware for Windows 10 on Windows Update which will help unlock the security and power management benefits of Windows 10 once the systems are upgraded."
Going forward, "as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support," Microsoft execs said last week. That means Intel's upcoming "Kaby Lake" silicon, Qualcomm's upcoming "8996" silicon and AMD's upcoming "Bristol Ridge" silicon only will be supported when running the latest generally available version of Windows 10.
I asked Microsoft officials if this change in support policy means downgrade rights will no longer exist after 2023 (the date when Windows 8.1 exits extended support). A spokesperson said that last week's blog post was only about Skylake and future generations of silicon, and nothing more. I'm taking that as a no comment.
I also asked, as a number of readers had asked me, about what last week's support changes mean, if anything to those running Windows 7 or 8.1 in virtual machines on Skylake and newer PCs. The official reply, via a spokesperson:
"People can still do this, but Windows 7 was designed nearly 10 years ago before any x86/x64 SOCs (system on a chips) existed. For Windows 7 to run on any modern silicon, device drivers and firmware need to emulate Windows 7's expectations for interrupt processing, bus support, and power states - which is challenging for WiFi, graphics, security, and more. As partners make customizations to legacy device drivers, services, and firmware settings, customers are likely to see regressions with Windows 7 ongoing servicing."
(So, in other words, yes, but not advisable., according to the Softies.)
That's the latest in this ongoing saga. If and when I hear more specifics and get more answers, I'll keep you updated.