Don't face an XP rerun: Businesses should prepare for Windows 7 end of support now

Don't face an XP rerun: Businesses should prepare for Windows 7 end of support now

Summary: Do you care if your employer is running Windows 7 without patches in 2020?


Many workers will have moved on from their current roles by 2020, but if organisations want to avoid being stuck on Windows 7 without security updates, they should start preparing now.

Following Microsoft's warning last month that it would stop providing free security updates to Windows 7 in 2020, analyst firm Gartner is telling CIOs to begin preparing for the end of support for the OS now — that is, if they want to avoid the headaches that many organisations continue to face after Microsoft cut off support for Windows XP this April.

"While this feels like it's a long way off, organisations must start planning now, so they can prevent a recurrence of what happened with Windows XP," said Stephen Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner.

Microsoft's Mainstream support, which includes feature and security updates for Windows 7, ends in 2015. However, its extended support, which includes free critical security updates, ends on 14 January 2020. The same goes for Windows 7 Service Pack 1.

Windows 7 hasn't achieved the 80 percent share Windows XP did at its height, but with 51 percent share today, according to NetMarketshare, it's still the world's most widely-deployed desktop OS. As such, Microsoft could extend the deadline as it did with XP.

That said, it's probably not wise to gamble on Microsoft moving its goalposts, nor leave migration plans too late, given the complexities of dealing with the interdependencies between Windows 7 and browser-based enterprise applications.

According to Kleynhans, the main obstacle to an OS upgrade away from Windows 7 will be application compatibility. "The biggest compatibility issues in terms of applications not working will continue to be those that require specific releases of Internet Explorer," he said.

Organisations still stuck on Windows XP will likely be familiar with this issue if they'd built line of business applications that were dependent on Internet Explorer 6, which itself was tied to XP. 

With slow uptake of Windows and around a 10 percent share of the desktop today, Windows 8 and 8.1 haven't proved to as popular as Windows 7. But, said Kleynhans, the newer OS does offer benefits to the enterprise and should be on their menu.

"Microsoft has moved to a more fluid approach to releasing and updating Windows. In the 18 months since its release, Windows 8 has had two significant updates, and we expect more during the next year," he noted.

"Organisations that have already deployed some Windows 8 PCs, or that decide that Windows 8.1 Update 1 provides an attractive platform, should not shy away from deploying new devices with the OS."

Other organisations running applications that need to be supported and validated by ISVs "may find skipping Windows 8 for most devices makes sense".

One strategy organisations can consider is to deploy Windows 8 on newly-bought PCs, which offers a way to phase Windows 7 gradually.

Another would be to skip Windows 8 and try Windows Threshold or a subsequent release, which Gartner reckons will be the choice most opt for at the expense of still running some Windows 7 after 2020.

A third option would to be replace all Windows 7 devices with Windows 8, but Gartner doesn’t recommend this without a solid business case.

Read more on this story

Topics: Windows, Enterprise Software, Microsoft

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Don't care

    still have customers running 2000, XP, Vista, 7....
    • I agree

      XP still gets patches until 2019 despite the hype.
      • That is just not true (unless your OEM or your company paid ...

        ... Microsoft a boatload of money for extended XP support).
        M Wagner
        • Microsoft should be tried as criminals

          If they get paid to release security updates for a "few" companies that pay them extra money then the work is already done. To hoard that work away from public consumption seems borderline criminal to me.

          I don't understand the rational behind it.
          • Microsoft supported XP for 13 years...

            And stopped selling it within the last 3. As far as support goes, they don't owe you shit
          • No doubt retard but I guess you didn't understand my question

            Since the work is done and paid for and it wouldn't cost any Microsoft anymore time or money to release the same security updates to the public...what would be the reason for not doing it? Try to understand to what I am saying this time.
          • Umm, think about it j4w4...

            Microsoft are charging companies to build security updates for Windows XP. If they started giving away those updates, why would those companies continue to pay Microsoft to build them?

            Under your argument, anyone who writes software and sells it should give it away to everyone else as well, since it doesn't cost them anything more. See the logic flaw?
          • Grammar lesson

            Microsoft *is*
    • Windows 8 = Windows 7

      Have supplied a few dozen Windows 8 machines to clients and on each one have spent £3.00 and installed Smart 8. This virtually turns the machine into Windows 7 with zero aggravation. Result - Happy Customers!
      • And so you goal was to provide your customers with a Windows 7 experience?

        LOL. I love these kind of posts.
        Customer: "I want a Windows 7 experience on my desktop. What do you recommend?"
        whbs-09e04: "I recommend you install Windows 8 and then I will do everything in my power to make it look, act, and behave like Windows 7".
        Customer: "Okay, that sounds logical to me".

        LOL. I couldn't make this stuff up even if I tried.
        • @j4w4 Windows 8 has many advantages over 7

          Even when used with a start menu replacement to make it look like Windows 7, Windows 8 has many improvements over 7 in features and performance. Together with the longer support window (the issue discussed in the main article), there are plenty of good reasons to go with 8 rather than 7.
  • 6 years

    The only thing to do now is to be aware of what's coming. The actual migration can start early 2017.
    • Re: The actual migration can start early 2017....

      I would say 0% would do so with Windows 7 being used well after 2020. Mass adoption to a newer release will not take place until a suitable replacement is found. It is yet to be seen as to whether Windows 9 will come up with a suitable package or could it be by then there is a mass migration to Linux. Its certainly a possibility.
      • Mass migration to Linux?

        "Its certainly a possibility."

        It's certainly possible. Unlikely but possible.
        • You'll be the last to know

          Turin just saw the light.
        • Unlikely? It really depends

          It really depends on Windows 9. Windows 8 is so alien, it's the best thing Microsoft could have done for other OSes. If things were to stay 8-like, people may actually start using Linux more because it will get them back to the desktop feel they are comfortable with. There was a time we were married to Windows in our office but now most of our day to day is web-based. The only anchor really is Office, instead of Windows. Getting people to adapt to open office or whatever is a lot harder than switching windows to linux.
          • What's so alien about 8

            It's just like Windows 7, without a start menu. You can get a free start menu from a number of third party developers.
        • Linux is the future

          No more NSA back doors.

          No more end of support cut off dates.

          If you want to keep an OS for 50 years you can, the source is open so you can always find another contractor to support it. You aren't tied to one.
          • Yea

            Yea, okay, THIS is the year of the Linux desktop..just like the last 20.
            Buster Friendly
          • Many of us have transitioned to a mix of OS

            You can be a little skeptical, but the best and most cost effective is a mix of OS. Our house and work runs Linux computers (for productivity) and Android-based "toys." with one Windows 7 when Office-based compatibility really counts. Otherwise Libre Office and Linux in general works very, very well for many tasks. Microsoft should be worried. They really screwed up with Windows 8. Windows 9 is their last chance to get it right.