New Microsoft Windows support changes: What they mean to business users

Microsoft's most recent tweak to its Windows support policies may affect business users' PC purchasing and migration plans. Here are a few points to ponder for those running Windows 7, 8.1 and 10.

Microsoft is making a change in its Windows support policies that will affect those in the market for new PCs who aren't yet ready to go with Windows 10.

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Unlike consumers, more than a few business users who buy (or whose companies buy for them) new PCs may want or need to run an older version of Windows because of company policies. upgrade schedules, legacy application and peripheral compatibility and other various reasons.

But the new word, as of today, is Windows PCs based on newer CPU architectures -- beginning with Intel's 6th-generation Skylake chips -- will require Windows 10. There will be a number of predesignated Skylake PCs that will be verified as Windows 7 and 8.1 capable, but Microsoft will guarantee support for these machines only for 18 months -- or until July 17, 2017.

My ZDNet colleague Ed Bott outlined these support changes, which Microsoft disclosed on January 15.

It's not clear to me and others what effect this change will have on businesses moving to Windows 10. I could see some businesses pushing back their timetable to move to Windows 10 until they are ready to migrate users to newer hardware running Windows 10 from the get-go.

I also wonder whether today's new policies will result in fewer sales of new Skylake PCs, at least to business users who have been expecting to be able to downgrade to Windows 7 on these systems and use them for some period of time (longer than mid-2017) before moving to Windows 10. Maybe we'll see a run on enterprises snapping up Broadwell and Haswell PCs that can run Windows 7 and Windows 10 (?).

Why is Microsoft making this change?

The official answer as to why Microsoft is doing this is in order to provide users with a better computing experience. The argument is Windows 7 wasn't built to take advantage of new capabilities in recently introduced PCs. And the newest Windows PCs weren't built with Windows 7 in mind; they were built for Windows 10.

As Directions on Microsoft analyst Wes Miller tweeted "For some time, what was a good PC before Windows 10 arrived, and what is a good PC now, have been diverging...". He added: "Welcome to the world of tightly engineered hardware and software. Sometimes getting new software means saying goodbye to old hardware."

Others believe the real reason for the change is Microsoft's desire to wean more users from Windows 7 and 8.1 more quickly and avoid a repeat of the "Windows XP forever" scenario.

Which new PCs can users buy knowing they will be fully supported with new features and security updates for Windows 7/8.1 until 2017?

PCWorld says (and Microsoft is confirming) the first PCs that made it onto the list are:

  • Dell Latitude 12
  • Dell Latitude 13 7000 Ultrabook
  • Dell XPS 13
  • HP EliteBook Folio
  • HP EliteBook 1040 G3
  • Lenovo ThinkPad T460s
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
  • Lenovo ThinkPad P70

Microsoft's big Windows 10 goal: one billion or bust

That sounds like a big number, but how tough will it really be to hit that target?

This is only an initial list, a company spokesperson said. A "more robust" list will be available next week, and will continue to be updated.

What if I have a Windows PC running a processor older than Skylake, like Brodway, Haswell, etc.?

Users can continue to run Windows Vista, Windows 7 SP1, or Windows 8.1 on pre-Skylake machines and get updates and security fixes from Microsoft as promised before. They also can run Windows 10 on supported pre-Skylake, Skylake (and post-Skylake) machines and get security updates through 2025.

Extended (security fixes, no new features) for those operating system variants still end on the dates promised, specifically:

  • Windows Vista: April 11, 2017
  • Windows 7: January 14, 2020
  • Windows 8: January 10, 2023
  • Windows 10: October 14, 2025

What does today's support-policy change mean for downgrade rights?

Downgrade rights enable users buying PCs with Windows 10 Professional installed by OEMs to downgrade to either Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1 Pro. Last year, Microsoft officials said downgrade rights for Windows 7 would end in January 2020 and Windows 8.1 in January 2023.

After today, this scenario gets a new asterisk. Now the rule is PCs with processors older than and not including Skylake still have the above-mentioned downgrade rights. But PCs with Skylake that are on the forthcoming Microsoft list will be downgradable to Windows 7 or 8.1 and supported only until July 17, 2017.

After July 2017, I'm not sure what downgrade rights will look like for those buying new Windows PCs.

Bottom line: Microsoft's message is that while Windows 10 can work on older, new and still-to-come PCs, Windows 7 isn't guaranteed to do so. Whether you take that message as "buyer beware" or "Windows 10 or else," that's Microsoft's newest guidance.

What other questions do you have about Microsoft's latest support changes? Chime in below and I'll try to get some answers.

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