Poll results: Here's why people are sticking with Windows 7

Nearly 10% of the visitors to this website who are using Windows PCs are still running Windows 7. Why? The poll results tell a consistent (and occasionally surprising) story.

Last week, after looking at this site's server logs and some open source data from the United States Government's Digital Analytics Program, I discovered that nearly 10% of the many millions of visitors to these sites are still using Windows 7. Why are so many people continuing to use this operating system, long after Microsoft ended support for it?

So I decided to ask my readers. And boy howdy, did you all respond.

Our ZDNet poll drew more than 3200 replies, along with 50 or so emails. The results are fascinating.

Let's start with the two easiest questions.

Do you plan to upgrade to Windows 10 in the next 12 months?

The answer to this question was pretty emphatic. Just under 58% replied No, with another 27% answering Not Sure. Only 16% said Yes.

Several respondents pinned the blame for the slow upgrade on corporate IT departments, with two respondents saying that the Covid-19 response had caused issues with completing upgrades in their organization. Others pointed to IT departments that are "understaffed" and "incompetent" and "taking their time."

In all, roughly 1% of respondents specifically mentioned that they were prohibited from upgrading because they were using a company PC and not a personal device.

Are you paying for extended support?

Although Microsoft has stopped releasing monthly updates to the general public, those updates are still available for those who purchase Extended Security Updates (ESUs). They're not cheap, and they're not easy for small businesses to acquire, as I noted at the beginning of this year. (See "You want to keep running Windows 7? Good luck with that, small businesses.")

Perhaps that explains why only 6% of poll respondents said they're paying for ESUs, with another 3% admitting they're not sure. The remaining 91% are, apparently, doing without security updates.

In the longer responses, some people took pains to note that their Windows 7 machines aren't connected to the internet; others pointed out that they had up-to-date security software. And a few said they thought Microsoft was exaggerating the threat posed by running unsupported software in a bid to squeeze more money out of customers.

What is the main reason you haven't upgraded?

Here's where things got interesting.

The original survey contained four choices and a box labeled other, where respondents could fill in their own answers. Nearly a thousand people chose "Other" and then wrote in their reason.

I read every one of those responses and categorized them manually, a painstaking process. About 10% of the responses couldn't be categorized, because the reason was indecipherable or irrelevant. That left a total of 2,855 usable responses.

Here's how they broke down.

Compatibility (42%)

The number-one reason people are sticking with Windows 7? There's no contest. "Compatibility issues (hardware and software)" wins in a landslide. Fully 40% of respondents chose that answer, and another 2% or so selected "Other" and then identified a compatibility issue.

The specifics included some esoteric equipment, including one person with a legacy CNC milling machine, plenty of old peripherals that don't have Windows 10 drivers, and several people who paid for Adobe Creative Suite perpetual licenses and have no desire to upgrade.

Among the write-in responses the biggest group was made up of fans of Windows Media Center, who collectively added up to roughly 1.5% of respondents. Their loyalty is impressive.

Don't want to upgrade (32%)

About 17% of respondents chose the ready-made "Just don't feel like upgrading" answer from the poll form. But I counted nearly the same number of people who chose the Other box and then made it clear from their reply that they had picked Windows 7 over its logical successor, Windows 10.

I sorted those replies into four buckets, in the following order:

People who just don't like Windows 10 made up the biggest chunk of respondents. People called out the user interface, bugs, and stability, in particular.

About one in four of the "I don't like Windows 10" group used strong enough language that I created a separate "Windows 10 sucks" category. Many used that exact phrase, while others threw in overheated words like "garbage," "crap," dumpster fire," and a few choice phrases that I can't repeat here.

In all, those first two groups added up to about 10% of total responses.

A slightly smaller camp had no particular problem with Windows 10 but preferred Windows 7. Just under half of this group praised Windows 7 because "it just works."

A slightly larger group said they believe "Windows 7 is better than Windows 10." They praised the user interface ("much more user friendly," "the last usable version") and called out Windows 7 for its stability. A word that appeared over and over again was "control," especially in the context of security updates. (More on that in a minute.)

In all, it seems appropriate that the two groups of Windows 7 fans added up to about 7% of survey respondents.

Upgrade is too expensive (10%)

I was surprised that so many people chose this option, especially when the Windows 10 upgrade is still free. (For details, see "Here's how you can still get a free Windows 10 upgrade.")

The most poignant example came from a reader in Iran, who said, "In Iran we have a bad situation" and the cost of the upgrade was too high.

Updates are too intrusive (5%)

An unsurprising number of people expressed their extreme displeasure with "forced updates," "buggy updates," and the "feature churn" with twice-yearly updates.

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"I've never had to reinstall an OS due to a borked update," said one respondent. "That seems to be a regular occurrence with Win10."

Continuing the theme of loss of control, another person said, "I own my computer and decide when to update, not Microsoft."

Privacy/telemetry/spying (3%)

I was just a bit surprised that this number was so low, but what they lacked in numbers, this group made up for in ... well, let's call it passion, using multiple variations of the word "spying" as well as "privacy" to express their discontent for Microsoft's "telemetry," which is apparently a dirty word.

Another 1% or so specifically called out the word "trust" and a handful described their hatred for Microsoft using language that my editors would be extremely displeased to see me repeat on this website.

Perhaps the best response in this group was this one: "This is BIG BROTHER, brother."

Afraid to upgrade, can't upgrade, too busy (3%)

Not everyone who responded to the survey was dismissive of the idea of upgrading. A significant number of people said they were afraid to upgrade because they worried they would lose data or programs in the process.

This category also included people who said they were "too busy" to upgrade or that they couldn't afford the time to reinstall programs and reconfigure system preferences.

About a third of the responses in this group said their hardware was too old to upgrade or that they had tried and failed. But my favorite reply was a single word: "Laziness."

Training/support issues (3%)

Honestly, I expected this group of responses to be bigger, but it looks like most corporate customers aren't particularly worried about users being able to adapt to change.

I'm moving to Linux (1%)

And finally ... It just wouldn't feel right if I ignored the handful of respondents (24, to be exact) who said they either have switched to Linux or are just about to do so. I'm sure we'll hear from that contingent in the comments section.