Microsoft cuts support for Windows 7, but that’s no cause for alarm

Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7 on Tuesday. Windows 7 will continue to receive security updates until 2020, but Microsoft hopes most people will have upgraded to Windows 10, or beyond, by then.

Steven Senne/AP/File
Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7 on Tuesday, but will continue to release security updates for the OS until 2020. Here, customers visit a Microsoft Store in Boston.

Windows 7 was released more than five years ago, in October 2009, and on Tuesday Microsoft ended mainstream support for the operating system. Don’t panic: “mainstream support” means free phone and online help from Microsoft, as well as non-security-related software updates.

Windows 7 will continue to receive security updates until January 14, 2020, by which point the operating system’s ubiquity will presumably have faded as more people upgrade their computers and software.

About 56 percent of PCs worldwide currently run Windows 7, according to stats from market firm Net Applications. Only 13.5 percent of PCs are running Windows 8 or 8.1. Slightly more than 18 percent are still running Windows XP, which was originally released in 2001 and which stopped receiving security updates from Microsoft in April 2014.

Microsoft’s next operating system, Windows 10, will be released sometime this year. Microsoft hasn’t given an exact date yet, nor said how much the new OS will cost, although TechRadar has reported that Windows 8.1 users will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. Microsoft will hold a press event at its headquarters in Redmond, Calif., on January 21, where the company will probably share new details about Windows 10.

With Windows 10, Microsoft is reintroducing some popular older features from earlier Windows versions – such as legacy controls – that went missing in Windows 8, while still making sure that the OS works well on tablets and touchscreen PCs. Windows 8 was criticized for its tablet-like design, which wasn’t always easy to navigate with a mouse and keyboard. Microsoft design executive Joe Belfiore said last year that Windows 10 will suggest new ways to interact with files, but won’t force users to abandon more traditional ways.

Windows 10 may also introduce a new web browser to complement (and, eventually, replace) Internet Explorer. The new browser, reportedly code-named “Spartan,” would be updated with a new rendering engine to compete with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Internet Explorer, hampered by the need to maintain support for special business applications, has been steadily losing consumer market share for about 10 years now.

If you’re currently using Windows 7, there’s no need to panic about the end of mainstream support – you’re covered (at least from a security perspective) through the end of the decade. But Windows 10 is right around the corner, and Microsoft seems to be designing the OS in such a way that it will be an attractive upgrade for users of older Windows versions.

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