After suffering through the end of support for Windows XP last April, there has been some recent alarm over a misinterpreted Windows 7 deadline. With Microsoft’s new direction for Windows 8 proving unpopular, and Windows 10 still several months away, many longtime Windows users have chosen to stick with Windows 7, and some misinformation has led them to believe that an “end of life” event similar to Windows XP occurs today, January 13, 2015. Before you panic and start planning a switch to Linux, however, it’s important to note that today’s deadline, while real, does not affect end-user Windows 7 security fixes. The XP-like “end of life” deadline for Windows 7 SP1 won’t happen until January 14, 2020.
As explained by ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, the confusion comes down to Microsoft’s definitions for “Mainstream” and “Extended” support of the company’s operating systems. Mainstream Support is the period during which Microsoft provides both security patches and bug fixes, in addition to telephone support, for most customers, including average consumers. During the Extended Support phase, in which Windows 7 SP1 now finds itself, Microsoft will continue to provide security fixes for free to all users, but won’t necessarily fix bugs that aren’t security related, or provide telephone support to customers.
Here’s an example of what this means for the typical Windows 7 user: let’s say that users find a Windows 7 bug that causes desktop wallpaper of a certain resolution to not appear; there’s just a big black background where the wallpaper image should be. Starting today, Microsoft probably won’t issue a fix for that bug, and those using Windows 7 will just have to deal with it by avoiding the wallpaper image characteristics that trigger the bug. On the other hand, if a new security vulnerability is discovered that lets malicious users execute unauthorized code via the use of an infected wallpaper image, then Microsoft will issue an update that patches that bug, and will continue to patch any other security vulnerabilities until January 14, 2020.
So there’s no need to panic, Windows 7 users. And the good news is that many of the non-security-related bugs have been identified by now, meaning that those who choose to stay with Windows 7 should feel comfortable doing so for five more years.
One final note, however: Microsoft’s extended support only applies to Windows 7 SP1, a free update released in July 2010. New security patches will likely only be delivered to users running the latest version of Windows 7, so make sure that your Windows 7 PCs are up to date to ensure you see the latest patches in Windows Update.
For curious Windows 8 users, the Windows 8.1 Mainstream Support deadline is January 9, 2018, while its Extended Support deadline won’t occur until January 10, 2023, at which time we should definitely have flying cars.