Now what?

The big day has come. Microsoft’s end of support for Windows 7 is now official. Does that mean those of us still using Windows 7 should panic, like our droid friend C-3PO?

No. He’s a drama queen. Ignore him.

It became clear over the last year that Microsoft was not going to grant us a reprieve. Windows 10 is their strategy going forward and they are going to drag us along whether we like it or not. Eventually, we are all going to have to bite the bullet and make the move to Windows 10 if we want to continue to live in the Microsoft world. But that doesn’t mean it has to be today, or this week, or even this quarter.

Although the “out of support” screen shown above is clearly an attempt to scare us into action, it turns out that the deadline isn’t as firm as Microsoft would have you believe. Your computer is not about to explode. It won’t even stop working for the time being.

As of yesterday, Microsoft will no longer release bug fixes or security updates for Windows 7. However, Win7 is a mature and stable product and hasn’t had any significant new features or functionality in years.

Lack of security updates is a bigger concern. This means that, as new vulnerabilities are discovered, Microsoft won’t patch them. As of right now the product is secure, but that will most likely change. However, Microsoft is still supporting its antivirus product, Security Essentials, and it will continue to receive updates. Norton is continuing to provide Windows 7 support for its antivirus products. So there is still protection even without Windows updates.

For web browsing, Google has promised to support its Chrome browser on Windows 7 until July 2021. Microsoft’s Edge browser (built using the same base engine as Chrome) was made available for Windows 7 and Microsoft is planning to support it as long as Chrome. Mozilla (maker of Firefox) currently has no plans to drop Windows 7 support either. Internet Explorer is unsafe and has been for a long time, and if you are still using it, stop.

Yes, at some point you will have to make the move. Microsoft would prefer that you buy a new computer running Windows 10 and migrate to it, but it takes quite a bit of time and effort (I’m in the process of doing that with my work laptop right now, trying to squeeze the migration in during breaks in my work day, and it’s taking forever).

If your Windows 7 system is complex, with lots of installed programs (requiring tweaking and configuring) and a complicated network setup, installing Windows 10 on top of 7 is probably the best option, assuming your hardware meets the requirements. Anything less than 7-8 years old will probably be fine, but a hardware compatibility check is part of the upgrade process. I am still working through the steps to get comfortable with the procedure. My primary desktop at home (the guts of which are now 7 years old) would be a nightmare to rebuild from scratch and this will be my upgrade guinea pig (I have excellent backup/restore capabilities).

You might think I’m making too big a deal about it. Just install the Windows 10 upgrade and move on, right?

Um, no. Windows 10 is different. If you are used to all your icons being where you want them and acting like that always have, you are going to go through a major period of adjustment and annoyance. For example…

The Windows 10 Start menu is…okay, listen. I hate the Windows 10 Start menu. Despite being heavily customizable, in its default state it seems to have been deliberately designed to prevent you from finding anything. The left-hand column, which you’d expect to contain all your installed apps, doesn’t actually show all of them. I keep having to click the Search icon and start typing the name of the program I want. Kind of defeats the purpose of a Start menu. So far, it seems the only way to make the menu usable is to pin your most-used options (those boxes on the right side). Maybe this is just my learning curve, but I usually pick this stuff up pretty quickly and I’m struggling. The menu customization options seem to consist of checkboxes to turn off features you don’t want, like “Suggested apps.” I DON’T NEED YOU TO SUGGEST APPS JUST SHOW ME WHAT I’VE GOT.

Fortunately you can still populate your desktop with icons, and the taskbar at the bottom of the screen works much the same way as Windows 7. Again, it’s just a matter of taking the time to learn the new twists and get used to them. It’s no big deal if you use your PC for fun or as a hobby, but when the machine is your life (like mine), you don’t have the time to futz around acclimating yourself.

I subscribed to the website of tech guru and Microsoft expert Paul Thurrott and downloaded his Windows 10 Field Guide, hoping to get a quick jump start. It’s 500 pages long. Comprehensive, yes, but I’m trying to do this in my spare time.

The upshot here is that I’m asking you to be patient with me if you plan to have me help you make the transition. I’m not where I want to be yet but I’m working hard to get there. I want to assure you that, as of now, you’re not in danger using Windows 7, but everyone has to make their own risk assessment, particularly if your computer is your livelihood.

Free Windows 10 upgrade ending soon – should you care?

Windows 10 was released on July 29, 2015. To encourage its adoption, Microsoft announced that it would be available as a free upgrade for users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 for a period of one year. The expiration date is coming up very soon, after which Windows 10 will sell for $119. So taking advantage of that offer is a no-brainer, right?

Well, maybe.

Nag nag nag

Microsoft hasn’t exactly been doing the soft sell here. To communicate the upgrade offer to all eligible users, Microsoft pushed out a “Get Windows 10” pop-up nag screen through Windows Update. Those of us who wanted to postpone or bypass the upgrade (or just stop the nagging) figured out how to remove the update that installed it. Then Microsoft pushed it out again. Then we hid the update. Microsoft un-hid it.

The battle escalated until Microsoft changed the upgrade prompt to actually install Windows 10 even if you tried to stop it. Users were so outraged that many started disabling Windows updates altogether. Microsoft then dialed it back a little, making the upgrade prompt clearer and more controllable.

At any rate, it’s obvious that Microsoft really really wants you to upgrade to Windows 10.

We know what’s best for you

Frankly, I just don’t trust Microsoft much these days. It goes back to the launch of Windows 8 in 2012, at which point Microsoft arrogantly decided that we were all going to use the tablet-friendly “Modern” user interface instead of the traditional Windows desktop, whether we liked it or not. Never mind that Modern was designed for touch screens and was a royal pain to use with a keyboard and mouse.

The backlash from Microsoft’s business customers was swift and justifiably brutal. Microsoft might be able to push home users around, but enterprise administrators responsible for deploying hundreds or thousands of desktops were having none of it. The president of Microsoft’s Windows division, Steven Sinofsky, was shown the door, and Microsoft was forced to atone for its sins by releasing Windows 8.1, which at least gave us the option of defaulting to the Windows 7-style Start menu that we were all used to.

Windows 10 (if you’re wondering why they skipped Windows 9, we don’t really know), from a user standpoint, promised enhanced security and stability, and it would be able to determine whether it was running on a tablet or desktop and adapt accordingly, using the optimal interface for each device. But the most significant enhancement was behind the scenes – Microsoft would be able to unify its code base across all supported platforms – PCs, Surface tablets, the Xbox, and even Windows Phone. Once implemented, this could save the company tremendously on development expenses.

Further, Windows 10 is likely to be the last major new release of Windows. Once Win 10 is installed, Microsoft can transition its software model to a cloud-based service, seamlessly pushing fixes and new features through automatic updates indefinitely. (The question is whether Microsoft will be transparent about this process, or leave users in the dark about what is being changed and when. Based on how they handled the “Get Windows 10” process, I have concerns.)

In summary, Windows 10 benefits Microsoft far more than it does you. That’s why they are so darned eager to get you to upgrade.

Do I have a choice?

So, should you upgrade, assuming you haven’t already (willingly or otherwise)?

If you are currently running Windows 8 or 8.1, I say go for it. Your PC is already screwed up and can only improve with Windows 10. But see the caveats below.

If you have Windows 7, I vote no. While Microsoft ended “mainstream support” for Win 7 in January 2015, you will still receive security updates until January 2020. You will almost certainly get a new computer within the next three years, and you can make a nice leisurely transition to Windows 10 at that time.

And if you plan to keep your current Windows version and want to stop the nagging, technical guru Steve Gibson has provided a nifty little utility program called Never10. Download and run it. It will make the registry changes necessary to disable the nag screen, and even delete the Windows 10 upgrade files if they’ve already been downloaded. You can keep the program and run it later to reverse the changes if you change your mind, especially on the off chance that Microsoft decides to extend the free upgrade period past July 29.

Leap of faith

Now, if you decide to make the jump, under no circumstances should you choose the “express settings” option for Windows 10. The default privacy settings for Windows 10 are, quite frankly, a sick joke. Microsoft is taking its cues from Apple and Google and looking to get its hands on as much of your data as possible. I can’t do a better job of covering this issue than David Auerbach does in this Slate article, which I strongly recommend you read through before upgrading. Auerbach recommends skipping the process of creating a Microsoft account, which opens the door to all sorts of data collection and the ill-advised “feature” called Wi-Fi Sense, which shares your home wi-fi password with all of your contacts so they can connect automatically to your network when they visit (or park in your driveway). Perhaps you see this as a convenience. I see it as a loss of control and it scares me. (If you already have Windows 10 installed, refer to this article to check your wi-fi sharing settings and modify them.)

Happy anniversary

Shortly after the free upgrade offer ends, Microsoft will push out an “anniversary update” with some enhancements and new features, most of which seem to involve Cortana, the voice-controlled virtual assistant that is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri. At the same time, they will double the number of “promoted apps” (i.e., ads) that appear on the Start menu. It makes you wonder what other sorts of “promotions” Microsoft is planning down the road, which they can stuff into your Windows installation at any time, and without notice. Welcome to Windows 10.

The world is NOT ending

Today is the day that Microsoft officially ends support for Windows XP. The media has picked up on it, and are covering it with their usual sober perspective and restraint.


If you are a reader of this website, you already knew well in advance that this was coming. I covered it in detail this past January, and the information in that previous post still applies, so please check it out if you need a refresher. But I’ll take this opportunity to provide a quick summary for you and also tip you off about how Microsoft is working overtime to scare everyone (bless their hearts).

Here is the situation: As of today, Microsoft will no longer provide updates to the operating system to patch newly discovered security vulnerabilities. This means that, in the future, if someone discovers a new flaw in Windows XP, Microsoft will not fix it.

Your risk is no greater than it was yesterday, assuming you have applied all currently available Windows updates. Even if you haven’t, those existing updates will remain available for download.

You will still be protected from viruses as long as you have an antivirus program installed. Even Microsoft’s free Security Essentials will continue to get updates until July 2015.

That’s why I’m saying panic is unwarranted at this point. Unfortunately, Microsoft has complicated things in their efforts to “get the word out.” They’ve sent out an update that causes Windows XP to pop up this friendly message.

XP warning

At least you can click the check box to make it go away. However, if you have Security Essentials as your antivirus program, it now pops up a nag message as well.

security essentials warning

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s a way to stop this message from appearing. Microsoft may disable it in a future update to Security Essentials, but for now it looks like we’re stuck with it unless you replace Security Essentials with another antivirus program. Again, I discussed these options in the January post. Since Security Essentials will continue to get updates into July 2015, I wouldn’t bother replacing it unless the popup really bothers you.

Now, let’s talk about the future.

Estimates are that about 25-30 percent of all PCs still run Windows XP. That’s a big fat target for people who have nothing better to do than hack away at things until they break. The chances are 100% that someone will figure out a way to compromise something in Windows XP. What we can’t predict is how serious it will be or how long it will take.

If I were really cynical, I might even suggest that it would be in Microsoft’s best interest to develop some bit of malware that would render XP unusable. But I don’t think they’re that evil. Yet.

The bad guys are hard at work trying to break everything else as well. Windows 7 and 8, networking software, routers, you name it. The difference is that as long as support continues for these products, someone will be able to fix the problems as they are discovered.

There is no such thing as a computer, tablet, or smartphone that can’t be hacked. As soon as you connect to the Internet, you are at risk. And without an Internet connection, these devices just aren’t very useful any more, especially as more and more services move to the cloud.

So the same rules apply whether you’re using Windows XP or anything else. Keep your important data backed up. Keep your security software up to date. And try not to do anything stupid online.

And for now, don’t panic.

The twilight of Windows XP