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No piece of software can last forever. Sooner or later, nearly every program has to go and its replacement takes the stand. The Windows operating system (OS) itself is no exception.
What happens when Windows reaches the end of its lifetime? What Windows products are currently supported? And what do you need to do about it? We’ll answer these questions and more as we look at how the Windows lifecycle works.
What Is the Windows Lifecycle?
Whenever Microsoft releases a new version of Windows, they also announce its end of support date. You can find these dates in a table on Microsoft’s website. You’ll notice two dates: Mainstream support and Extended support:
- During mainstream support, a version of Windows receives security updates as well as possible feature updates. You can also get help from Microsoft via the phone or web chat at no charge. This lasts for at least five years after that version launches.
- After this, Windows enters extended support. During this period, Microsoft continues to issue security patches. But you won’t see new features or bug fixes unrelated to security anymore. If you need official help, you’ll have to pay Microsoft (or just learn to troubleshoot on your own). This begins at the end of mainstream support and lasts for up to 10 years after the OS release.
To Windows 7 users…
Remember the mainstream support has already ended. Extended support will end in 2020.
Don't follow XP.
— Chubdrgn (@danomdragon) February 10, 2016
Once extended support ends, that version of Windows is effectively unsupported. Microsoft won’t offer any updates — even for security issues — except in the most dire of circumstances like WannaCry. Even then, the patch came after the attack, so it didn’t protect outdated computers.
Which Windows Versions Are Out of Support?
Taking a look at the lifecycle table, we can see that Windows Vista is no longer supported after April 11, 2017. The next oldest version is Windows 7, which has extended support until January of 2020. Windows 8.1 will receive mainstream support until January 2018 and extended support until 2023.
It’s important to note that you must have the latest Service Pack installed to receive security updates. If you don’t have Service Pack 1 installed for Windows 7, you aren’t on the most current version. Similarly, the original version of Windows 8 is out of support as well. On Windows 10, the end of service dates only apply to the latest versions (which we’ll cover in a moment).
Infamously, Microsoft dropped support for Windows XP in 2014, yet people still continue to use it. This is due in part to business use, but many home users are still stuck on Windows XP. Know that you’re not safe using XP anymore, and should upgrade to a newer version as soon as you can. But don’t worry. You can still put your old XP or Vista computer to use.
How Is This Different for Windows 10?
It’s different with Windows 10. The Windows lifecycle was more of a pain before Windows 10 came along: once support ended, you basically had to upgrade your computer or pay for a new copy of Windows. Since Microsoft offers Windows 10 as a service, it’s regularly making Windows 10 even better and releasing those updates free for home users.
This means instead of releasing a brand-new Windows version every few years, Microsoft tweaks Windows 10 regularly. Moderate updates launch a few times a year — such as November 2015’s Fall Update — and major updates occur about once a year.
Since its release in July 2015, we’ve seen both the Anniversary Update and Creators Update add lots of Windows 10 features and make the overall experience smoother. Microsoft releases these major updates in cycles, so not every user gets them at once.
Windows 10 Lifecycle Dates
We looked at the Windows lifecycle page earlier. Scroll down a bit, and you’ll see an Updates and service packs header. This details when the latest service packs became available for each OS version:
Take a look at the Windows 10 section. You’ll see it’s divided into sections based on OS version. Unless you’re familiar with them already, these version numbers are pretty obtuse:
- Version 1507 is the original version of Windows 10.
- Version 1511 is the November Update from 2015.
- Version 1607 is the Anniversary Update.
- Version 1703 is the Creators Update, current the newest version.
If you want to see which version of Windows you’re using, press Windows key + R to open the Run command and type winver. This opens a little box with information about Windows. Near the top, you’ll see which Windows 10 version you’re on.
Did you notice that the original Windows 10 version is no longer supported? That means if you’re still using it, you need to upgrade right away to continue receiving security updates. Thanks to automatic updates in Windows 10, you don’t have to worry about manually checking as much.
How Should I Upgrade?
Let’s go over the various lifecycle scenarios that apply to you, based on the Windows version you’re on.
Windows 10 Creators Update (1703)
If you’re already running Windows 10 Version 1703, congrats! You’re on the cutting edge and don’t need to take any action. Check out our guide on what to do in the Creators Update and consider becoming a Windows Insider if you want to test new versions first.
Windows 10 Anniversary Update (1607)
Those running the Anniversary Update, don’t fret. Microsoft may not have rolled out the Creators Update to your PC yet, but it’s coming eventually.
You can grab the Creators Update now, or just wait until it comes to you normally.
Windows 10 Fall Update or Original Version (1511, 1507)
The 2015 Fall Update is still in support, but the original version of Windows 10 isn’t. The good news is that upgrading is simple and free.
If you’re running either of these versions, you should run Windows Update to download and install the latest versions. Open Windows Update by going to Settings > Update & Security. Click the Windows Update tab on the left, then click Check for updates. Let Windows find and install updates, then install them so you’re up-to-date.
Should you have a problem with Windows Update, use Microsoft’s download tool to grab the latest updates directly. We recommend you make a backup first just in case something goes wrong during the update process.
If you’re not keen on Windows 10, Windows 8.1 is the next best place. Microsoft will support this OS until 2023, so you don’t have to worry about upgrading any time soon. Windows 8.1 offers plenty of cool features, so you’re covered.
As we mentioned above, Windows 8 isn’t receiving support anymore. You’ll need to upgrade to Windows 8.1 for free to receive further updates.
Good old Windows 7 will receive support until 2020, which will be here before you know it. You’re clear to use Windows 7 for a few more years, but you should plan to upgrade to Windows 10 before long. If you don’t mind doing it soon, you can still use a workaround to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. Otherwise, you can wait until 2020 to buy a new computer or buy a copy of Windows 10 normally.
Windows Vista or XP
Still using Windows Vista or XP? You need to jump to a modern version of Windows, but your options are pretty limited. If you’re lucky you can grab a cheap copy of Windows 7 or 8 and use the above workaround to update to Windows 10. But since Vista and XP are so old, computers running them probably won’t have the power to run Windows 10. We recommend replacing your PC with a fresh Windows 10 system.
Upgrade Problems and Workarounds
Trying to upgrade from the original version of Windows 10 and having issues? You can try a few workarounds to make the upgrade work. Back up your data before doing these so you don’t lose anything.
First, try using the Update now button on Microsoft’s Windows 10 download page. If this doesn’t work, try creating Windows 10 installation media and running the upgrade that way. Still not working? Some have reported having better luck with the upgrade when they disable their antivirus and disconnect any external USB devices like flash drives. You should also free up some disk space since a lack of space can cause the upgrade to stop.
If you still can’t make the jump, try resetting Windows and doing the upgrade from a clean slate. Confirm that your hardware meets the minimum requirements for Windows 10, as well. If you can run Windows 10 in its original form, you should have no trouble running the new versions.
Are You Using a Supported Windows Version?
When the free Windows 10 upgrade offer ended in 2016, we discussed what would happen if you didn’t upgrade. We’re starting to see the results of this major change, but it’s thankfully not too bad yet.
Most Windows 10 users enjoy automatic updates and thus are on the latest version without thinking much about it. Anyone still using the original Windows 10 version can upgrade free without much hassle. Those on Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 actively refused the free upgrade to Windows 10, but still enjoy a supported OS. Plus, they can jump to Windows 10 free anytime they like thanks to the workaround.
While keeping track of Windows lifecycles can be a bit of a pain, it’s important for your safety to stay current and apply security patches. Staying on the latest version of Windows goes a long way in keeping you safe.
There’s another version of Windows 10 we didn’t discuss here. It’s called Windows 10 S, and we’ve covered everything you should know about it.
What version of Windows are you running? Have you ever used an unsupported version of Windows? Tell us your experiences in the comments!
Image Credit: omihay via Shutterstock