Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Microsoft Windows

Versions, hardware & the lifecycle of support

Versions | Hardware | Experience Rating | Lifecycle | Customizing

A glossy Windows logo created for a desktop background.

This page contains general information about Microsoft Windows including some of the technology common to most Windows versions. You'll find information about specific versions in the Windows section of the Self-help Resources index page as well as in the Related Resources section of this page.

New Windows User?

If you are new to Windows, you might want to have a look at the Windows Basics page to learn more about some of the terminology used on this site and others.

A Short History

The first widely-used version of Windows was Windows 3.1, which was a DOS (command-line operating system) add-on.

The Start Button Appears

Windows 95 gave us the Start button and most of the layout features that show up on Windows until Windows 8.

Aero Transparency

Windows Vista introduced Windows Aero transparency with larger icons, a result of more powerful hardware displaying on larger flat screen monitors.

Improved Security

Windows Vista greatly increased the security of Windows with bitlocker drive encryption, encrypting file system, shadow copy and the notoriously annoying User Account Control.

Windows 7 refined those security improvements and introduced new productivity features, restoring confidence in Windows for many users.

Crippled Versions

Unfortunately, both Vista and Windows 7 included stripped-down versions.

Vista “Basic” and Windows 7 “Starter Edition” were built specifically to run on legacy 32-bit computers built for Windows XP to placate computer manufacturers with remaining inventory.

These systems were unable to support the more demanding 64-bit Windows Vista or Windows 7.

Not only did they suffer from poor performance, but users were forced to search for setting that remained accessible in their more powerful contemporaries. Both had a very limited lifespan.

Mobile Computing Emerges

Windows 8 saw Microsoft attempt to integrate the desktop operating system with a mobile computing environment.

In their haste to modernize Windows, made the mobile desktop (familiar to table and smart phone users) the default. Unfortunately this left keyboard and mouse users (the bulk of their previous client-base) with poor support.

Modifications in Windows 8.1 restored some functionality, but it was too little, too late for many people who clung to Windows 7 until support expired (some even longer).

Software as a Service

Microsoft took a different tack with Windows 10.

Realizing that much of the world was now using mobile technology, Windows 10 brought the mobile concept to desktop operating systems including the ability to move your work to and from mobile devices.

Windows 10 is Software as a Service rather than a traditional operating system and the licence is tied to the life of the device (much like cell phones).

Windows 11 is mostly like Windows 10, with few real improvements. The huge system requirements related to the need for a TPM and recent CPU appear to have more to do with forcing you to buy a new computer (vendors miss the “good old days” when you bought a new computer every 18 months or so) than providing a truly improved experience.

There are rumours that Microsoft is working on a Windows 12 release.

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Windows Versions

Windows comes in several versions, usually separated by chronological release date.

Windows Editions

Windows XP through Windows 8.1 there were different flavours (called editions) of each Windows version aimed at various user classes.

Windows 10 Editions

Windows 10 is designed as a single operating system running on any device in 12 different editions.

Corporate Windows

There are also Windows versions aimed primarily at the corporate world (enterprise) including Windows Server which was designed for small networks of computers sharing the same information.

Downgrade Rights

Downgrade rights is the terminology Microsoft used to allow users to run an earlier version of Windows using the licence for the current version.

Determining which version of Microsoft software you have a right to run, known as your downgrade rights, depends on the channel through which the software was purchased; Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), Retail (FPP), or Volume Licensing (VL) and also when it was purchased.
— Microsoft TechNet

Only currently-supported versions of Windows are eligible for downgrade rights.

A device may not be able to run prior versions of Windows if the device hardware is incompatible, lacks current drivers, or is otherwise outside the original equipment manufacturer's (OEM) support period.

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Each generation of Windows is more demanding of hardware. Recent hardware is usually going to outperform older (legacy) hardware.

New Hardware Performs Better

Touch Screens

Windows 8 and 10 enhance touch capabilities (like on tablets and smart phones). Computing has become more tactile and less dependent upon mice and external keyboards.

Voice Commands

We're not quite at the point where voice command is common as is showcased in Star Trek but Windows 10's Cortana has made voice commands much more practical in computers.

Earlier computers lacked built-in cameras and microphones, but these have become more common even in desktop systems.

32- or 64-bit?

Both current hardware and software is broken into 32- and 64-bit classes. The larger the number of bits the more information that can be simultaneously transferred.

32-bit software can run on 64-bit systems, but slows down processing. Think of the traffic slowdowns when traffic on a 4-lane highway merges into a 2-lane roadway.

With the demise of Windows XP and the proliferation of 64-bit hardware, the market for 64-bit applications and drivers has greatly improved. Only legacy hardware is 32-bit.

Not Everything Works in 64-bit

Most modern hardware is 64-bit running 64-bit versions of Windows. This means it requires 64-bit device drivers (software that talks to hardware devices) so a lot of older 32-bit hardware won't run in 64-bit environments at all.

Support for 32-bit software and drivers are fast disappearing and many legacy 32-bit programs no longer run in the 64-bit environment.

Despite the move to 64-bit hardware, a great deal of 32-bit software remains, probably because of legacy components.

True 64-bit Computing is Here

Most modern software is designed with the advantages of 64-bit computing in mind.

Some software may be unavailable in 64-bit versions or may be labelled as 64-bit without taking advantage of the 64-bit architecture.

Such software works fine in 64-bit systems but is located in the Program Files (x86) folder which holds the legacy 32-bit programs.

64-bit Browsers

64-bit versions of browsers like Firefox and Chrome are faster and work better even with calls from 32-bit programs.

The demise of 32-bit plugins once required to view multimedia on the Web (since replaced with HTML5 technologies) removed a significant barrier to the universal use of 64-bit browsers.

Check to see if you're still using 32-bit programs even though 64-bit versions are available (e.g., Firefox, Thunderbird, The Bat!, VLC Media Player, IrfanView).

64-bit Advantages

64-bit hardware can address much more memory at a time. 64-bit software will only run on 64-bit hardware running a 64-bit operating system.

Even if the full benefits of certain 64-bit hardware or software are not available, the ability to address more RAM is a definite advantage and helps Windows to run faster in these environments.

Generally, a 64-bit version of Windows has the following advantages:

Disadvantages of 32-bit Software on 64-bit Computers

64-bit Windows can currently still run most legacy 32-bit software, but hardware is more demanding:

  1. Not all hardware devices may be compatible with a 64-bit version of Windows.
    • 32-bit device drivers are not supported.
    • Unsigned device drivers won't install (for security reasons).
    • 64-bit device drivers may not be available for legacy hardware devices (e.g., older USB scanners).
  2. It may be difficult to run legacy programs on a 64-bit operating system.
    • Windows Vista was designed for 64-bit programs but changed the way settings were managed (e.g., 32-bit Pocomail had issues with Windows 7). This process accelerated with Windows 10.
    • Some older 32-bit programs may not run a 64-bit operating system at all or have issues.
    • One example is the Pocomail email software which had configuration issues when running on Windows 7 computers.
  3. 64-bit addressing takes up more space.
    • This primarily impacts legacy hardware.
    • Modern systems have larger hard drives and more RAM and the corresponding files systems are more efficient.

More recent laptops have much smaller hard drives, partly because SSDs are generally smaller (because they cost more per GB) but also because of the move to store more of our data in the cloud.

Getting the Technical Details

The differences between 32- or 64-bit are slightly technical, but the following resources can help answer your questions:

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Windows Experience Rating

With Windows Vista, 7 and 8 Microsoft provided Windows Experience Rating, a tool to assess the hardware on a Windows computer. Various hardware elements are measured and rated (higher is better).

Windows Experience Rating

My desktop's Windows Experience Rating

Locating the Windows Experience Rating

Windows Experience Rating is shown in System within the Control Panel in Windows Vista, 7 and 8:

You'll also see other system information which includes the operating system, registration information and computer information.

Windows Experience Index Hidden in Windows 8.1 and 10

Windows Experience Index was removed from the System information in Windows 8.1 and later.

Some of the earlier versions of the ChrisPC Win Experience Index may indicate incorrect values unless Windows Experience Index was run on the hardware prior to upgrading to Windows 10. This is corrected in later versions.

Check for Recommended Requirements

When looking at software and hardware, be sure to check the requirements to run them. Ensure that you have the recommended capability rather than the minimum requirements so you can run the program as intended and to avoid frustration with slow response issues.

Speeding Up Windows

There are several things you can do to speed up Windows:

Many programs are configured to start with Windows but this can be altered in the options for each program. Most of those show up as icons on the right side of the taskbar.

CCleaner can also help to speed up your Windows:

Windows 10 added Startup Apps (Start ⇒ Settings ⇒ Apps) that indicate how much impact apps make to system startup and allow you to turn off startup by app. Windows services may be more favourably assessed.

Preventing apps from starting with Windows can stop software and hardware from functioning.

Checking Gaming Hardware Capability

You can run a quick check of your hardware to see if you meet the system requirements.

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Windows Lifecycle of Support

Microsoft licences software using specific timelines for end-of-support. The “free” upgrades to Windows 10 and 11 can complicate things.

Fixed Lifecycles | Modern Lifecycles | Unsupported Versions

The information in this section is based upon the Windows lifecycle fact sheet. Microsoft's policies are subject to change.

When a product reaches the end of its official support by Microsoft it becomes unsafe to use. You must either replace it with a supported product or take your computer offline.

If you downgrade a Windows licence to an earlier version, that installation carries the lifecycle of the downgraded version. For example, if you downgraded Windows 10 Pro to Windows 7 Pro, your support expired on January 14, 2020. You may see if installing Windows 10 Pro with all the current updates regains the lifecycle currently available to Windows 10.

Windows Support Lifecycle Changed

Microsoft's support lifecycles have changed significantly:

Fixed Lifecycles

Until Windows 10, Microsoft had a fixed support lifecycle for each version of Windows, Internet Explorer or Office. Support expired within a predictable time period after its release:

Ending mainstream support for a product means Microsoft will no longer be enhancing that product. What it does NOT mean is there will no longer be fixes for security and reliability issues.
Microsoft Support

Fixed Lifecycle Policy Ends with Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 was the last currently-supported version of Windows that is governed by the Fixed Lifecycle:

Prior versions of Windows, including Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, have limited support when running on new processors and chipsets from manufacturers like Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and Qualcomm.

As of January 20, 2023, only the Modern Lifecycle will be in force.

Modern Lifecycles for New Products

The lifecycles for current products like Windows 10, Windows 11 and Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) are governed by the “Modern Lifecycle” which is defined differently:

The Modern Lifecycle Policy covers products and services that are serviced and supported continuously. Under this policy, the product or service remains in support if the following criteria are met:
  1. Customers must stay current as per the servicing and system requirements published for the product or service.
  2. Customers must be licensed to use the product or service.
  3. Microsoft must currently offer support for the product or service.
Microsoft Support

The “Modern Lifecycle FAQ ” uses the following definition:

Products and services governed by the Modern Lifecycle Policy are supported as long as customers stay current as per the servicing and licensing requirements published for the product or service and have the rights to use the product or service.


To stay current, a customer must accept all servicing updates and apply them within a specific timeframe, per the licensing and servicing requirements for the product or service.
Microsoft Support

I strongly recommend that you read these FAQs to fully understand the conditions:

Windows 10

There isn't just a single date for end of support for Windows 10 (the final end of service is October 14, 2025).

Instead, each major Windows 10 release has its own “end of service” where support ends — generally 18 months from the date the major update was released.

Historically, new versions of Windows 10 (also called feature updates) were released twice a year via the Semi-Annual Channel. Beginning with Windows 10, version 21H2 (the Windows 10 November 2021 Update), feature updates will be released annually in the second half of the year via the General Availability Channel.
Microsoft Support

These support dates are subject to change, such as when Microsoft extended support for older updates to avoid disruption while employees were working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Windows 11

Like Windows 10, there is no fixed date for end of service except for the final end of service for Windows 11 (probably 10 years after the 2021 release).

Instead, each major Windows 11 release has its own “end of service” where support ends — generally 24 months from the date the major update was released for Home versions (enterprise versions have 36 months).

New versions of Windows 11 will be released once per year and will receive monthly quality updates that include security and non-security updates. Customers should always install the latest version before the current version reaches end of servicing to remain supported by Microsoft.
Microsoft Support

Unsupported Versions UNSAFE to Use

Once a Windows version reaches the end of support, you should cease using it. Vulnerabilities affecting newer versions of Windows often can be found in older versions.

An unsupported version of Windows will no longer receive software updates from Windows Update. These updates include security updates that can help protect your PC from harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software which can steal your personal information.


Windows Update also installs the latest software updates to improve the reliability of Windows—such as new drivers for your hardware.


If you continue to use an unsupported version of Windows, your PC will still work, but it will become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses.


Your PC will continue to start and run, but you will no longer receive software updates, including security updates, from Microsoft.
Microsoft Support

Both mainstream and extended support has expired for all Windows versions earlier than Windows 10.

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Customizing Windows

Customizing Windows is changing the way it looks and includes altering certain functions from what is standard when first installed to personalize it. You can make many changes to the Windows desktop appearance.

Tweaking Settings

This involves changing the way Windows does certain tasks, usually by editing the Registry, using a Registry fix or via a utility like Object Desktop.

The Windows Registry

Windows registry is a very complex file where Windows and programs keep track of preferences, settings and other information.

CCleaner has a registry cleaner. Be sure to back up changes as it removes problems by deleting incorrect registry entries. You can restore the backup by double-clicking the generated backup file (e.g., cc_20231101_141251.reg).

Editing the Registry

Editing the Windows Registry directly is for advanced users.

Be sure to backup your registry before making changes. Incorrect entries can make Windows unbootable or stop programs from working.

To edit the Registry:

  1. Type Regedit in the search box then click on Registry Editor (the app or regedit.exe) from the search results.
  2. Click Yes if the User Account Control window appears.
  3. The Registry Editor will then open.
  4. Backup your registry before you making any changes.
  5. Navigate to the registry key you wish to edit.

Removing “Shortcut To”

Remove the annoying “shortcut to” text from the name of new shortcuts. You can still tell a shortcut by the little shortcut arrow overlaying the icon.

While this fix works for Windows 7 and earlier, it seems to fail in Windows 10 because the link registry value is not there:

In Windows 10 you may have to add the link registry value before adding the 00,00,00,00 registry value.

More about the Registry:

Changing the Look

These changes are more visual than functional, although many can add or enhance features already found in Windows, particularly in the newer versions.

Customization can run from changing the default icons, colour schemes and wallpaper to fully redesigning the look of Windows.

Object Desktop

Object Desktop provides a whole set of tools and addons to customize your Windows, even change underlying functionality in Windows.

Included with Object Desktop:

Note: These products are now priced for multiple installations and the pricing will appear in your currency.

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Support Resources

Significant Microsoft Sites

Other Windows Guides

Related Resources

On this site:

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Updated: November 1, 2023