Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Replacing Windows

Upgrading when Support Ends

Planning for Replacement | Windows 10 | Alternatives | Preparing to Upgrade

Calendar showing a pending deadline

When Windows Support is Ending

This page is about your options when a currently-supported version of Windows is about to expire (currently, Windows 7). Windows 8.1 will be the next to lose support under the old support protocol.

However, the terms of support for Windows 10 have changed, which makes determining the end of support difficult to pin down since more variables are involved.

Once support for your version of Windows has expired, it is dangerous to use. Your choices are to:

If your Windows 10 device is no longer supported, your options are the same as above except that you need to purchase new hardware if you wish to continue using Windows 10.

Windows Support Phases

Microsoft has changed how they define the supported period for software, including Windows.

Traditional Support: 10 Years

Traditionally, Windows support comes in two phases totalling 10 years:

  1. The end of mainstream support means that there will be no further free updates to the operating system (only essential fixes and security updates).
  2. When extended support expires there will be no more security updates, bug fixes, or technical support.

Modern Support: Lifetime of the Device

Unlike the support lifecycle for previous versions, Windows 10 has moved to the modern lifecycle policy which provides support for the lifetime of the device rather than a fixed period of time.

Currently, Microsoft provides support for one year from the most recent update. If you continue to update, this will not be an issue for you until Microsoft determines that your hardware is unsupportable.

When Extended Support Ends

Once extended support for any version of Windows ends, it is no longer safe to us and you need to look for an alternative as soon as possible.

In the last year of extended support, Microsoft will give you plenty of warning so you can prepare before it is too late.

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Planning for Windows 7 Replacement

Over a third of Windows users are clinging to Windows 7, though support ends in [less than] one year. — Tech Republic

With less than one year left of Windows 7 support, now is the time to consider what you'll do when Windows 7 support ends. The options depend upon how committed you are to Windows and what you use your computer for.

How Important is Windows Software?

Probably the most important aspects to consider are your software and hardware requirements.

  • Consider what software you're running and if it can be replaced or likely needs to be upgraded in the future.
  • Consider if you have critical hardware that cannot run on alternative operating systems and if it can be replaced easily. Not all Windows-based hardware will work with Windows 10.

If you have a significant investment in Windows software or hardware that is expensive or impossible to replace, you may need to move to Windows 10. If you are a basic user then alternatives like Linux and Mac become easier to accept.

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Moving to Windows 10

Recent Hardware & Software?

If your hardware is recent and relatively powerful, it will likely support Windows 10. The question becomes one of how well does it support the new features you want to use and if you will need to replace external devices like printers and scanners.

If your hardware is relatively old, you need to invest in a new Windows 10 computer or consider one of the alternatives to Windows.

Software Considerations

Your software is another aspect to consider. If you have relatively-new software it will likely run on Windows 10.

Whether you move to Windows 10 or move to another operating system there is the possibity that you'll need to purchase or upgrade your current software. Most Linux software is free, but not all Mac software or Windows 10 apps are.

Email

Moving to another operating system may mean exporting your email from the old mail program then importing it into the new program.

This isn't a big deal if you use webmail (e.g. Gmail) but could be an issue for you if you have tons of important email stored on your computer that isn't also on the email server.

CAD/Adobe/Accounting

Similarly, if you own a CAD program, an Adobe Suite, an accounting program or other significant software that currently works for you, moving to another operating system may be either unsupported or too expensive.

Windows 10 Upgrade

An upgrade to Windows 10 may be your only option if you NEED to run either software or hardware (e.g. printers, scanners) that works only on Windows.

A free Windows 10 upgrade from Windows 7 or 8.1 may be possible (I've recently upgraded a several systems) but you'll possibly have to pay for it, especially if you wait.

If your Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 computer hardware is sufficiently modern to support the upgrade, see Should You Upgrade? on the Windows 10 page's aside (sidebar on larger screens).

If you cannot upgrade your current computer, you need to consider a new computer if you choose to stay with Windows.

A New Computer with Windows 10

If your hardware too old, it is unlikely that it will support a Windows 10 upgrade, or support the newest features. Since Microsoft could end support for older hardware at any time, spending money to update wouldn't make sense.

Purchasing a new Windows 10 computer probably is your best option. It will allow you to take advantage of modern hardware and the new features it supports in Windows 10.

To take advantage of the latest hardware capabilities, we recommend moving to a new PC with Windows 10. As an alternative, compatible Windows 7 PCs can be upgraded by purchasing and installing a full version of the software. — Microsoft Support

Windows 10 has matured significantly since its release and may offer some advantages over Windows 7 and 8.1, depending upon your hardware capabilities and your need for the newer features.

Windows 10 boots faster, works faster, and seems much more robust than either Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1. — InfoWorld

But consider these potential issues with moving to Windows 10:

  • There are privacy and monetization considerations. Privacy setting have been a moving target. Linux is a safer bet if you're worried about that.
  • Windows 10 pre-loads a lot of bloatware (e.g. Candy Crush) and places annoying roadblocks when trying to make your preferred apps the default instead of Edge, Photos, Films & TV, etc.
  • Many non-essential apps cannot be uninstalled at all (including Xbox).
  • Windows 10 is essentially a mobile-first, cloud-first operating system which is enhanced for touch. Windows 10's Start menu is nothing like Windows 7's but is an improvement over Windows 8.1's.
  • Some users have experienced issues with forced updates that have included flaws leading to the loss of personal data or even the inability to start Windows. Microsoft appears to be reconsidering this practice.

Upgrade Resources

If you do decide to upgrade to Windows 10, there are resources to help you:

Corporate Users Face Unique Challenges

For companies, particularly those that have folks working from home, there are additional challenges when upgrading to Windows 10:

For small offices, without added automation capabilities, you have to send a person down to every machine to do the migration. And there are plenty of home users that rarely, or never, come into the office. — Sumir Karayi

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Alternatives to Windows

If you aren't committed to the Windows environment but still need a computer, the best options include either moving to a Mac or to Linux. Both will require some adjustments, but so does moving to Windows 10.

Chromebook may work for some users with less demanding requirments.

Others may consider doing away with a computer altogether and moving to a tablet or smartphone. Combined with a wireless printer, most simple requirments can be met.

Mac

Switching to a Mac means embracing Apple's computing model and can mean some significant investments in hardware and possibly software. Since Macs can last up to twice as long the extra expense can be justified.

If you already use an iPad or iPhone, familiarity with iOS will make the transition to macOS easier.

Linux

Switching to Linux offers a free but workable option, particularly if your hardware is too old to run Windows 10.

Modern Linux automatically installs most of the software that casual users require such as Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, etc. You can also install other software.

There are various distributions (flavours) of Linux as well as several desktop environments to choose from. I recommend Linux Mint because it more closely resembles Windows 7 in how it looks and feels and is based upon the popular Ubuntu.

Ubuntu and Mint are now the third and fourth most popular home operating systems (after Windows and Mac). Windows 10 now contains the Windows Subsystem for Linux.

The South Korea and the city of Munich, Germany governments are among those that have moved or are planning to move to Linux.

Chromebook

While Chromebook offers a less expensive computing experience, it requires a full-time Internet connection for most functions (it is essentially a cloud-based operating system).

ChromeBook has considerable privacy issues (Google never forgets) but will run Android apps, which may appeal to those already familiar with it on their tablets or smartphones.

Tablets & Smartphones

If you're a home user and you don't create a lot of original content (mostly surfing the Web, email and social media) you might consider moving to an iPad or Android tablet. Combined with a suitable wireless printer you may be able to do away with a computer altogether.

Tablets for Business

Businesses may find it useful to move to a suitable tablet for travel or other portable use, but most businesses will continue to require computers for some of their work — at least for now.

Tablets have gotten more powerful over the years, but even top-tier 2-in-1s like Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s iPad Pro are still a step away from replacing laptops for many business users. — ComputerWorld

More software is becoming available for tablets that is aimed at business (e.g. Affinity Designer for iPad) but require newer, more capable devices running the newest technology.

In one review, the 9.7 inch iPad Pro fared well against the Microsoft Surface Go for Business when a Logitech Slim Folio for iPad keyboard case was added.

Smartphones

Smartphones excellent for communications tasks but the limited screen size may affect your productivity with apps that benefit from a larger viewport.

While smartphones are available in quite large sizes, I find the convenience of a smaller phone for portability combined with a tablet a useful compromise. Neither threatens my need for computers at this time. New technologies like folding phones may change that soon.

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Preparing to Upgrade

Note: this section assumes an upgrade from either Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 and needs to be adjusted for other alternatives.

Before upgrading you'll want to ensure that you can recover from any disaster and that you give the upgrade the best chance of success.

If you're specifically upgrading from Win 7 to Win 10, you're at higher risk for problems. That's because the Windows 10 update requires adoption of a completely new system, so the installation can wipe out your existing user data and all of your system preferences. Backing up before you update is critically important to minimize your risk of downtime. — Acronis

Upgrading Windows 7/8.1

The various Windows 10 Updates have added much new functionality — provided it is supported by your hardware.

Downloading Windows 10

You can immediately download the Windows 10 upgrade, activating it by providing a legitimate Windows 10 license key.

Upgrading for Free

The “free” upgrade period has ended, but many people have managed to upgrade their computers to Windows 10 without purchasing a license.

Microsoft clearly wants to be done with earlier Windows versions. These resources may help.

  1. Do a complete backup of your current Windows installation so that you can recover if the upgrade fails.
  2. Backup your data (documents, pictures, videos, music, etc.) separately onto a reliable removable drive so that you have a backup of your data separately from a backup of your old Windows system. This allows you to copy these files back without restoring system settings.
  3. Uninstall any software you no longer use (keep the installation media, just in case).
  4. De-authorize any software that requires authorization (e.g Adobe Suites, Nitro Pro, WS-FTP). This avoids issues with reinstalling it if something goes wrong.
    • If the upgrade goes smoothly, simply re-authorize the software when the upgrade is completed.
    • If something goes wrong you'll have to reinstall the software before re-authorizing it.
  5. Download the new Windows installation media (probably Windows 10) and store it on the computer where you can find it (e.g. the Desktop). Save a copy on a removable thumb drive as a backup.
  6. Restart Windows to complete any processes awaiting a reboot.
  7. To ensure a smooth upgrade, temporarily remove your security software. Firewall, antivirus and other components could block the update of Windows.
  8. You will probably have to restart Windows again.

Once you're completed these steps, do not use the Internet or run your applications until you upgrade your Windows or restore the old settings.

You no longer have security software installed and running software can create changes to your system and alter files you've backed up.

The Upgrade Process

At this point your system is ready for upgrade.

Upgrading is quite simple. I strongly recommend that you simply run the Windows installation media that you downloaded in the last step.

The upgrade assistant will advise you whether your hardware is capable and if any programs will not be able to run under your new version of Windows but the process is not perfect.

Other Considerations

People have experienced catastrophic failures during the upgrade process, including losing the ability to boot their computer at all.

In such cases you can try to do a clean install of the new version of Windows or of your previous Windows version. In either case you're going to need those backups.

By backing up the full system, you could be back up and running quickly by reinstalling Windows then restoring settings, applications and more from a good backup. Your mileage may vary depending upon your backup software and what is installed on your system.

Clean Install

A clean install is where the hard drive is wiped and the base operating system is installed then updates applied then programs reinstalled and data restored.

Problems Resolved

Because your drive is wiped, issues with broken drivers, missing files, incorrect settings, malware and other problems are resolved.

You may wish to search for, download and save copies of necessary drivers on removable media before beginning the clean install process.

Care must be taken to ensure that boot-sector viruses aren't present.

Long Process

Depending upon whether you're restoring Windows 7/8.1 or doing a clean install of Windows 10, this can be a long and tedious process with potentially hundreds of updates to restore as well as your programs and data with their settings.

Recovery Media Required

If you've lost the recovery media for your computer or never created it in the first place it may be impossible for you to recover your system.

Windows 10 may be able to generate the necessary drivers, but without your recovery media there is no going back to your old Windows version.

Local Account

The Windows 10 installer also provides the option for a Windows 10 local account, which is less likely to send your private information to Microsoft — if you make the correct choices during setup.

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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Updated: August 16, 2019