Windows is the most popular PC operating system in the world, and as of 2019, Windows 10 is the most popular version. At this point, roughly 40% of all computers (desktop and laptop) in the world are running Windows 10. That’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of 800 million devices. But … There are still huge numbers of PCs running Windows 7, an operating system that is now a decade old. And that’s a problem. Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7 in 2015, but on January 14, 2020 the company is also ending extended support. That means no support whatsoever for the over 30% of computers still running Windows 7, including no new security patches.

Here’s what happens, in Microsoft’s own words:

“If you continue to use Windows 7 after support has ended, your PC will still work, but it may become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses. Your PC will continue to start and run, but Microsoft will no longer provide the following support for your business: No technical support, no software updates, no security updates.”

2012’s Windows 8 wasn’t exactly a hit, as Microsoft got a little overzealous in its attempt to make a modern-looking desktop operating system that played nice with tablets and smartphones. The user interface was confusing to many people and the loss of the classic “Start” button was controversial. As a result, millions of Windows users skipped upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8, and many of those have chosen to stick with Windows 7. That has resulted in far more users that usual using a very outdated operating system. If you are one of the hundreds of millions of people still running Windows 7 on your computer, the clock is well and truly ticking at this point. Here’s everything you need to know about Microsoft’s looming deadline to end all support for Windows 7.

Will my Windows 7 computer stop running on January 14, 2020?

The good news is that nothing will happen to your computer that’s running Windows 7 on January 14, 2020. It will continue to run whatever software you have installed and Windows will continue to function. Your accessories and peripherals will still work. It’s likely that you’ll begin to see frequent urgent warnings from Microsoft that you need to upgrade your operating system, but other than that you should be able to keep working or gaming. You should even be able to install Windows 7 on other PCs if you have the installation disks—not that you should (you definitely should not).

The bad news is the same as the good news: nothing will happen to your computer that’s running Windows 7. That means it won’t receive any software updates and more importantly, it won’t receive any new security updates. That’s bad.

How vulnerable will my Windows 7 PC be to malware?

On January 14, 2020 any computer still running Windows 7 immediately becomes a target. If there are any new malware epidemics these PCs will be completely exposed. Remember everything that’s happened over the past two years, ranging from the rise and ongoing challenge of ransomware to Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities. Microsoft has been releasing security updates on a regular basis to help protect Windows users from these threats, but PCs running Windows 7 will be on their own.

Making the situation worse, cyber criminals are well aware of Microsoft’s cutoff. So expect to see targeted attacks starting next year that are specifically aimed at those vulnerable Windows 7 computers.

Is there any option to keep Windows 7 and be safe?

This is actually a bit of a tricky question. For consumers—that’s you and me—there is no option available for continuing to run Windows 7 after the January deadline and being able to count on your computer being safe. You can use third party security software to reduce the risk, but these products can’t provide the OS-level protection that Microsoft’s security updates offer.

However, Microsoft has announced an option for enterprise customers. Businesses with large deployments of Windows 7 PCs will have the option of paying for extended security updates for two additional years, through January 2023. 

This is meant to give companies additional breathing room without disrupting operations while they transition their PCs to Windows 10. But it’s only available to customers with volume Windows 7 licensing. Home and small business PC owners are stuck with the hard deadline of January 14, 2020.

What should I do?

There’s a simple solution to the looming deadline and that’s to upgrade your Windows 7 computer to Windows 10.

If you are unsure if your computer is able to run Windows 10, you can ask for help from Geek Squad. You can call them, do an online chat or just visit the Geek Squad counter at any Best Buy. They may even be able to scan your computer over the internet (remotely so you don’t even need to disconnect your computer) and suggest what upgrades will enable you to install Windows 10 effectively.

This may require some hardware upgrades (adding RAM is one of the most common requirements), but if your PC is really showing its age, the end of support for Windows 7 may mean that it’s time to think about a replacement. If that’s the case, you can look forward to a new much faster and more user friendly experience: desktops and laptops are light years ahead of computers from even just a few years ago. And Windows 10 has become a truly great operating system, so once you’ve made the switch you won’t be looking back. Here’s a look at the key differences between Windows 7 and Windows 10.

In the meantime, I’d be investing in an external USB drive and backing up all my data. That way it will be dead easy to migrate everything to a new PC (if it comes to that), and if you wait too long and are unfortunate enough to have your Windows 7 PC hacked in January you’ll have everything safe and secure.

The key is to start proactively taking action now, not in January.

Do I have to pay for Windows 10?

For the first year after the new operating system’s release, Microsoft was offering users a free upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to Windows 10. That free upgrade program ended in 2016, though. So if you are looking at an upgrade to Windows 10 you will have to pay for the software, although the price is reasonable. It’s certainly going to be less expensive than the potential aftermath of an exposed Windows 7 PC being hacked …

Stay tuned for updates on the Windows 7 support situation

I’ll be tracking the situation on the demise of Windows 7 as the countdown to support cut-off begins and if any new developments arise, I’ll update this page to reflect that. In the meantime, keep reading the computer articles on the Best Buy blog for detailed articles covering related topics including how to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. 

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.

1 COMMENT

  1. What does this mean about that laptop I have Windows XP on? Just kidding, I got rid of that laptop years ago. I do still have the install CD for Windows XP, as long as I install it on a Dell product (somehow it knows).

    My biggest issue is that I got a new-to-me PC this year with Windows 10. I installed the version of Microsoft Office 2003 that I own only to find out that Microsoft does not let me easily download the updates for that anymore. It’s like they want to force me to purchase the newer versions.

    I would definitely recommend that people run an OS that is supported by updates (especially security updates), and if someone is still running Windows 7 that they look into upgrading to either Windows 10 or a new PC. Currently Best Buy has Windows 10 Home for $189.99, and a new laptop or PC is as low as about $100 more than that. If you got your computer in the early days of Windows 7 it might be time to look into upgrading to a new computer anyway.

    Thanks for the info!

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