Microsoft’s aggressive tactics to get people onto Windows 10 may have made you resistant to upgrading, but this is not about Windows 10! This is about the end of extended support, which eventually hits all Windows versions, some sooner, some later. This is also about your digital safety, which is in jeopardy, if you’re still running Windows 8 RTM or any other Windows version for which support has expired.
With the General Availability of Windows 8.1, customers on Windows 8 have 2 years, until January 12, 2016, to move to Windows 8.1 in order to remain supported.
Source: Windows 8.1 Support Lifecycle Policy FAQ
What Does End of Support Mean?
Every Windows release has a support lifecycle, even Windows 10, arguably Microsoft’s last Windows version. Throughout this lifecyle, Microsoft supports Windows with updates and service packs. Updates are typically delivered through Windows Update on Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of each month. Occasionally, critical security patches are deployed immediately. During the mainstream support phase, Microsoft not only releases maintenance updates, but also continues Windows development and may implement new features.
End of support happens in two stages: end of mainstream support and end of extended support.
End of mainstream support is relatively harmless: A product that has entered extended support won’t receive any new features or improvements. For example, Windows 7 mainstream support ended in January 2015. Consequently, Windows 7 won’t receive support for Direct X 12, which was introduced with the Windows 10 Technical Preview that same month. During extended support, Windows continues to receive security-related updates, such as patches and hotfixes, which keep your system safe and running.
End of extended support is a much more serious affair. It’s the fate that befell Windows XP in April 2014. The operating system itself won’t cease to exist or function, as Windows XP’s impressive 10.93% market share as of December 2015 demonstrates.
However, once extended support has expired, Microsoft is no longer providing Windows with security-related updates; Windows Update essentially shuts down. This is happening to Windows 8 right now.
What Makes the Lack of Security Updates so Dangerous?
To comprehend why it’s not a good idea to run an operating system that is no longer supported, you have to be aware of four things:
A Connection to the Internet Is Sufficient to Catch Malware
You may think you’re safe because you’re not visiting shady websites or opening contaminated email attachments. The truth is, whenever your computer is connected to the Internet, hackers and malicious software can potentially get in and wreck havoc on your system.
Every System Has Holes
Just because an operating system has been running and receiving updates for over a decade, doesn’t mean it’s all patched up and bulletproof. Chances are, the programming and security standards from around the time it was released have become outdated and are easily breached.
Windows Security Updates Reveal Vulnerabilities
As Microsoft continues to release security updates for newer Windows versions, the company inadvertently reveals vulnerabilities in older versions, except that they won’t ever get patched. Hackers might even hold back on exploiting an unknown (to the public) vulnerability until the operating system no longer receives updates.
Security Software Will Also Drop Support
Maybe you think your firewall, antivirus program, Internet security suite, or malware scanner can protect you from attacks. The thing is, once Microsoft drops support for a Windows version, those software companies will follow suite, leaving you completely unprotected.
Taken together, outdated versions of Windows are boasting with entry points for malware and opportunities for hackers. If you’re using your computer for online banking, email, social media, or if you’re storing sensitive files on it, you’d better bite the bullet and upgrade to a supported version of Windows now.
Your Upgrade Options
Essentially, you have two options: upgrade to Windows 8.1 Update, which will be supported until January 2023 or upgrade to Windows 10, for which extended support expires in October 2025. Alternatively, you could leave Windows behind and move to Linux.
Windows 8.1 Update
This is where it gets messy. Windows 8 RTM is no longer supported, but neither is Windows 8.1. What you actually have to upgrade to is Windows 8.1 Update. Now how do you do that?
First, upgrade to Windows 8.1, which is done via the Windows Store. Make sure you’re prepared for the Windows 8.1 upgrade.
Alternatively, you can prepare a clean install of Windows 8.1 with installation media from Microsoft.
Once you have upgraded to Windows 8.1, you can install Windows 8.1 Update via Windows Update.
The links above will lead you to articles showing you each step of the respective process.
This is what Microsoft wants you to do and frankly, if your hardware is compatible with Windows 10 and you’re planning on using the computer for a while, this is probably the best long term solution. Upgrade to Windows 10 while it’s free and enjoy the latest features and the safest operating system Microsoft has to offer.
This is how you can do it:
You can upgrade directly from Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 using the Get Windows 10 app or the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool.
To upgrade from Windows 8, you have to either upgrade to Windows 8.1 (see above) or do a clean install (see below).
You can do a clean install from any eligible Windows Version (Windows 7, 8, and 8.1) using the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool.
Follow the links above for step-by-step instructions. Note that when you do a clean install, you can take some settings and apps with you and you’ll have to look into Windows 10 activation. Once you’re running Windows 10, be sure to familiarize yourself with the Settings app and control these default Windows 10 settings.
If you’re not eligible for the free upgrade to Windows 10 or if you’d rather buy a Mac, but can’t afford it, Linux is your way out. It’s free, it’s safe, and switching to Linux is much easier to handle than you might think.
Identify a Linux Distro that works for you.
Try your designated Linux version without switching, yet.
Back up your data and install Linux on your computer.
Only a Supported Windows Is a Good Windows
You’ll never be done with updating or upgrading Windows. If anything, updates will become more and more frequent. With Windows 10, we’ve been seeing more rapid and more substantial upgrades. It’s a race for innovation, not only to keep you safe, but also to keep you hooked into the Microsoft ecosystem.