As you’ve probably (hopefully) heard by now, Microsoft will be ending support for Windows 7 as of January 14, 2020.
For the past three decades we’ve managed technology systems for small and mid-sized law firms and associations in the DC Metro area. Over that time, we’ve learned a great deal about how these software lifecycles can impact businesses from a security, operations, and financial standpoint.
Below we’ll walk through what exactly this “end of life” means for your business, what options you have going forward, and what action we ultimately recommend you take.
What Windows 7 End of Life Means
After January 14, 2020, all devices running a Windows 7 Operating System will no longer receive any software updates or security patches from Microsoft.
Cybercriminals are constantly creating new viruses and malware that can break through security defenses and infect our machines; in 2017 alone, Symantec detected 670,000,000 new strains of malware. A primary way to protect your machines from these ever-evolving security threats is to regularly apply security updates that take these new strains of malware into account.
After January 14, 2020, Microsoft will stop applying these security updates to Windows 7 machines, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to a security breach. As we saw with the Windows XP end of life, bad actors keep track of when these machines become vulnerable, and double down in their efforts to wreak havoc.
Your Options Going Forward
If you currently use Windows 7 machines in your organization, you have three main paths to take:1. Do nothing.
Technically speaking, you don’t have to do anything; your computers will still work on January 15th, and you’ll still be able to get work done.
If you don’t deal with any sort of valuable data whatsoever—meaning everything could be spread to the Dark Web without consequence—and if you and all your clients and vendors and partners have an incredibly high tolerance for risk, you might not be worried about bad actors looking to gain access to your systems or otherwise cripple your machines.
As this is not the case for most of us, we do not recommend this course of action.
2. Perform in-place upgrades.
Another option is to keep your existing Windows 7 machines, and upgrade the Operating System to Windows 10. Before making this kind of switch, consider:
- Whether or not your machine has the capacity (power, space, etc.) to run the new OS.
- Whether your local applications are compatible with Windows 10, or whether you need to upgrade those as well.
- How you’ll coordinate the upgrade with each of your staff members.
If you go this direction, you’ll end up paying for Windows 10 licensing, plus the labor it will take to upgrade each of your machines one by one.
3. Buy new hardware.
Lastly, you can purchase new workstations that have a Windows 10 Operating System. If your current machines are over 3 years old, this is probably your best bet.
Here are a few specific devices we tend to recommend to our clients:
- Dell OptiPlex 7060 SFF Desktop
- Lenovo ThinkCentre 720s SFF Desktop
- Lenovo ThinkPad T490s Laptop
- Dell Latitude 5400 Laptop
In this case, you’ll have a fairly large investment in hardware, licensing, and setup labor ahead of you.
A Note on Virtual Desktops
There is technically a fourth option here that might be especially compelling for those using desktop computers: migrate to a Virtual Desktop (Desktop as a Service) platform. In this scenario, your desktop computers can be fully replaced by “thin clients,” or low-powered (and low cost) PCs—devices that are sometimes rented out to your organization as part and parcel of the solution.
As this constitutes a full move into the cloud, it’s something to discuss in-depth with your IT team to figure out if and when a migration makes sense.
In most cases, we recommend that our clients take approach #3: buying new hardware. However, no matter which path you decide to take, the key is to make a decision as soon as possible; January is right around the corner, and upgrade or replacement projects take time (usually months!).
Work with your IT team to identify the best path forward for your organization, and get the ball rolling.
Because once January 15th hits, the odds will be stacked against those who wait.