Life After End-of-Life For Windows 7 Updates

Pressure from die-hard and disgruntled Windows 7 users may have been a factor in Microsoft issuing a second update to its old Windows 7 Operating System, only two weeks after the official end-of-life date of Wednesday 14 January.

(Almost) No More Support

Microsoft had already made many announcements that support for its Windows 7 Operating system and Windows Server 2008 would (and we thought, did) formally and finally end on 14 January as part of the final push to move users over to the SaaS Windows 10 OS.  There are still opportunities for those with Windows Virtual Desktop to get an extra three years of extended support (of critical and important security updates) as part of that package, and for customers with active Software Assurance to get ‘Extended Security Updates’ for subscription licenses for 75% of the on-premises annual license cost.

First of the ‘Afterlife’ Updates

The first of the two surprise updates to be issued, just for extended security updates (ESU) users, after the end of support was a patch to fix a wallpaper issue, whereby a blank screen was being shown on Windows re-start instead of the stretch option for the background desktop for some users.  Comments by some disgruntled users on social media may have contributed to Microsoft releasing an update to fix the issue.

The Second Update

A second update announced by Microsoft really relates to an extension of the same issue. This time, Microsoft says it’s working on a fix to this issue for all, and not just for those who subscribed to its ESU program.  On Microsoft’s Support pages it says that an update to resolve the issue will be released to all customers running Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1.

In the meantime, Microsoft suggests that customers can mitigate the issue either by setting their custom image to an option other than Stretch, e.g. Fill, Fit, Tile, or Centre, or customers can choose a custom wallpaper that matches the resolution of their desktop.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though the widely publicised end of support date for Windows 7 has been and gone, it should be remembered that there are an estimated 40 million people still using Windows 7 which means there is no shortage of people to complain publicly, via social media when things go wrong.  Microsoft is, therefore, in that difficult period before users are unsupported before they finally switch to Windows 10 where there is likely to be more bad publicity to come for Microsoft as more issues start to affect the remaining Windows 7 users. 

There is also now the very real risk that Windows 7 will be targeted more by cybercriminals, leaving those who still use it in a much more vulnerable position.  At least in the case of the recent updates, Microsoft has been seen to do something beyond the call of duty to help users after the date that it officially ended support, although it’s unlikely that Microsoft will not make a habit of doing so in future.

Featured Article – Windows 7 Deadline Now Passed

Microsoft’s Windows 7 Operating system and Windows Server 2008 formally and finally reached their ‘End of Life’ (end of support, security updates and fixes) earlier on Wednesday 14 January.

End of Life – What Now?

End of life isn’t quite as final as it sounds because Windows 7 will still run but support i.e. security updates and patches and technical support will no longer be available for it. If you are still running Windows 7 then you are certainly not alone as it still has a reported 27 per cent market share among Windows users (Statcounter).

For most Windows 7 users, the next action will be to replace (or upgrade) the computers that are running these old operating systems.  Next, there is the move to Windows 10 and if you’re running a licensed and activated copy of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, Home or Pro, you can get it for free by : 

>> going to the Windows 10 download website 

>>  choosing to Create Windows 10 installation media

>> Download tool now and Run

>> Upgrade this PC now (if it’s just one PC –  for another machine choose ‘Create installation media for another PC’ and save installation files) and follow the instructions.   >> After installation, you can see your digital license for Windows 10 by going to Settings Update & Security > Activation.

Windows Server

Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 have also now reached their end-of-life which means no additional free security updates on-premises or non-security updates and free support options, and no online technical content updates.

Microsoft is advising that customers who use Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2 products and services should migrate to its Microsoft Azure.

About Azure

For Azure customers, the Windows Virtual Desktop means that there’s the option of an extra three years of extended support (of critical and important security updates) as part of that package, but there may be some costs incurred in migrating to the cloud service.

Buying Extended Security Updates

‘Extended Security Updates’ can be also purchased by customers with active Software Assurance for subscription licenses for 75% of the on-premises annual license cost, but this should only really be considered as a temporary measure to ease the transition to Windows 10, or if you’ve simply been caught out by the deadline.

Unsupported Devices – Banking & Sensitive Data Risk

One example of the possible risks of running Windows 7 after its ‘end-of-life’ date has been highlighted by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the public-facing part of GCHQ.  The NCSC has advised Windows 7 users to replace their unsupported devices as soon as possible and to move any sensitive data to a supported device.  Also, the NCSC has advised Windows 7 users to not use unsupported devices for tasks such as accessing bank and other sensitive accounts and to consider accessing email from a different device.

The NCSC has pointed out that cyber-criminals began targeting Windows XP immediately after extended support ended in 2015. It is likely, therefore, that the same thing could happen to Windows 7 users.

Businesses may wish to note that there have already been reports (in December) of attacks on Windows 7 machines in an attempt to exploit the EternalBlue vulnerability which was behind the serious WannaCry attacks.

Windows 7 History

Windows 7 was introduced in 2009 as an upgrade in the wake of the much-disliked Windows Vista.  Looking back, it was an unexpected success in many ways, and looking forward, if you’re one of the large percentage of Windows users still running Windows 7 (only 44% are running Windows 10), you may feel that you’ve been left with little choice but to move away from the devil you know to the not-so-big-bad Windows 10.

Success For Microsoft

Evolving from early codename versions such as “Blackcomb”, “Longhorn,” and then “Vienna” (in early 2006), what was finally named as Windows 7 in October 2008 proved to be an immediate success on its release in 2009.  The update-turned Operating System, which was worked upon by an estimated 1,000 developers clocked-up more than 100 million sales worldwide within the first 6 months of its release. Windows 7 was made available in 6 different editions, with the most popularly recognised being the Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions.

Improvement

Windows 7 was considered to be a big improvement upon Windows Vista which, although achieving some impressive usage figures (still lower than XP though) came in for a lot of criticism for its high system requirements, longer boot time and compatibility problems with pre-Vista hardware and software.

Some of the key improvements that Windows 7 brought were the taskbar and a more intuitive feel, much-improved performance, and fewer annoying User Account Control popups. Some of the reasons for switching to Windows 7 back in 2009 were that it had been coded to support most pieces of software that ran on XP, it could automatically install device drivers, the Aero features provided a much better interface, it offered much better hardware support, the 64-bit version of Windows 7 could handle a bigger system memory, and the whole Operating System had a better look and feel.

Embracing the Positive

It may even be the case that in the process of worrying about the many complications and potential challenges of migrating to Windows 10 you haven’t allowed yourself to focus on the positive aspects of the OS such as a faster and more dynamic environment and support for important business software like Office 365 and Windows server 2016.

What To Do Now

The deadline to the end of support/end of life for Windows 7 has now passed and the key factor to remember is that Windows 7 (and your computers running Windows 7) is now exposed to any new risks that come along. If you have been considering some possible OS alternatives to Windows 10, these could bring their own challenges and risks and you may now have very limited time to think about them. Bearing in mind the targeting of Windows XP immediately at the end of its extended support (in 2015), we may reasonably expect similar targeting of Windows 7 which makes the decision to migrate more pressing.

For most businesses, the threat of no more support now means that continuing to run Windows 7 presents a real risk to the business e.g. from every new hacking and malware attack, and as the NCSC has highlighted, there is a potentially high risk in using devices running Windows 7 for anything involving sensitive data and banking.

If you choose to upgrade to Windows 10 on your existing computers, you will need to consider factors such as the age and specification of those computers, and there are likely to be costs involved in upgrading existing computers.  You may also be considering (depending on the size/nature of your business and your IT budget) the quick solution of buying new computers with Windows 10 installed, and in addition to the cost implications, you may also be wondering how and whether you can use any business existing systems or migrate any important existing data and programs to this platform.  The challenge now, however, is that time has officially run out in terms of security updates and support so, the time to make the big decisions has arrived.