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.

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

The twilight of Windows XP

It’s been a good run, but the end is nigh.

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will withdraw extended support for Windows XP, meaning that they will stop providing security updates for download on this date. They’ve threatened to pull the plug a few times already, but it appears they really mean it this time.

I expect third-party software updates will continue to be available for a while, so programs like Java and Adobe Flash will still get patches. But vulnerabilities in Windows itself will no longer be addressed. And I just found out that the free Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus software will be withdrawn for XP.

So what does that mean for you if you still have Windows XP on your computer?

I believe it depends on how you use your computer. If your PC is your livelihood — if you use it for work or to support a home-based business, you should start formulating an upgrade strategy. As I have bemoaned many times in the past, there is no direct upgrade path from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8; you can’t just pop in an upgrade disk and install a new version of Windows without wiping out your current installation. So if you want to keep your current computer hardware, you would have to copy all your personal data to an external drive, install the new version of Windows, migrate your data back, and then reinstall all your programs.

It may therefore be time to consider a new PC with Windows 7 or 8 already installed. This way, you can migrate your data and programs at a more leisurely pace, while you still have your old PC available. This is how I did it.

However, if your PC usage is more of a hobby — if you use it primarily for e-mail, web browsing, or to play the occasional game, I don’t see any reason to undertake an upgrade right now. Your computer won’t suddenly stop working on April 8. You may be able to get by just fine on Windows XP for the foreseeable future. But you will need to address your antivirus protection, particularly if you are using the free Security Essentials. AV utilities from other vendors will continue to provide protection even if Microsoft no longer does.

If you want to stay with a free AV solution, Avast is a highly recommended option. AVG also has a free version that is decent.

If you’d like the additional security and support of a paid AV program, I’ve been really happy with Norton Internet Security and have switched to using it on all of my home PCs. For some years, Norton was kind of lost in the wilderness and became bloated, slow, and annoying. But Symantec got its act together and the latest versions are pretty slick. If you do choose Norton, save a few bucks and order it from Amazon.

By the way, I am still recommending Windows 7 over 8. Even though the 8.1 version addresses a lot of Windows 8’s shortcomings, it’s still a major adjustment for people used to the XP interface. You will find it much easier to adapt to Windows 7. It’s harder to find, but it’s still available. And while Microsoft is waffling on the cutoff dates for Windows 7, at this point the extended support is supposed to be provided until January, 2020. By then, Windows 9 or 10 should be available, and maybe Microsoft will get one of those right.

UPDATE 1/17/14: Well, Microsoft is backtracking again. They must have gotten an earful from customers, so they have announced that Security Essentials for XP will continue to get updates into July of 2015. Other reports are coming in that Microsoft has been forced to admit (at least to itself) that Windows 8 is a flop, and the company is already planning Windows 9 for 2015. Grab your popcorn and stay tuned.