Microsoft Makes It Harder for SMBs to Stick with Windows 7

By Joe Moran | Posted February 10, 2016

When it comes to technology, small business owners don't like to take risks. Rather, they tend to be fairly conservative, valuing predictability and consistency over novelty. It's why for the past several years—when buying new PCs—many such business owners (perhaps you included) purchased models with Windows 7 rather than Windows 8.x—and more recently, Windows 10. Or, they exercised "downgrade rights" to put Windows 7 on systems that came with a newer version already installed.

Thing is, Windows 10, Microsoft would really, reallylike everyone to move from Windows 7 and 8 to Windows 10 already, and in the six months or so since Windows 10 debuted, the company has conveyed this message in myriad ways both subtle and gross.

Until recently Microsoft primarily targeted its most overt methods, such as the free (until July 29, 2016) upgrade, and constant, nagging reminders at consumers, while giving business users a wide berth. But Microsoft is now taking steps—arguably heavy-handed ones (some would even suggest underhanded) to drag businesses to Windows 10 kicking and screaming.

Microsoft's Pushy Windows 10 Upgrade App

For starters, under the guise of "making it easier" for small businesses to upgrade to Windows 10, Microsoft has expanded distribution of the "Get Windows 10" app beyond consumer PCs to include many business PCs. In a nutshell, if your company's PCs are part of a Windows domain, licensed for Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8.1 Pro, and obtain updates via Windows Update, they will receive the Get Windows 10 app.

This app sits in your PC's Windows tray and reminds you (a lot) of the available Windows 10 upgrade. In some circumstances, it will even proactively download Windows 10 on its own (though it will not execute the upgrade without explicit approval).

Microsoft's helpful intentions aside, the presence of this app on business PCs may be more bane than boon because allowing people the opportunity to upgrade their PCs without management or IT authorization is, obviously, problematic. Fortunately, you can make a configuration change on PCs to ensure the Get Windows 10 app stays blocked—you can get the configuration details here. Note: if someone at your company does pull the trigger on a Windows 10 upgrade, you have a month to roll it back to the previous version.

Microsoft changes Windows 7 support

Microsoft Changes Support Terms for Windows 7

Another recent change involves what Microsoft euphemistically calls a "clarification" to its Windows 7 support policy. The company plans to provide support and updates for that version of Windows, which you may recall debuted back in October of 2009, for about four more years—through January 14th 2020.

However, Microsoft recently announced (sorry… clarified) that going forward its support for Windows 7 will not apply to most PCs based on Intel's current "Skylake" CPUs (processors). And it won't apply to any PCs based on forthcoming CPU families such as Intel's "Kaby Lake" and AMD's "Bristol Ridge."

A quick aside for people who are not familiar with this terminology: Skylake and the other codenames refer to different CPU generations. For example, while Skylake refers to Intel's most recent (sixth-generation) crop of CPUs and support chips, the prior generation was called Broadwell, and before that it was Haswell. Incidentally, you generally won't see these codenames referenced in a PC's specifications, but you can identify processor generations by the first digit of the CPU's model number. Example: a Core i5-6400 is a Skylake (sixth-generation) processor, while a Core i5-5675 is a Broadwell (fifth-generation).

This "clarification" has ramifications for any small business owner who plans to buy new PCs this year or possibly even those who bought new PCs in the latter half of last year (given that Skylake-based PCs started hitting the market in September 2015). The upshot of this policy is that any small business that wants to run Windows 7 on one of these newer PCs—if only to maintain uniformity with the rest of its network—will forgo support and updates by doing so.

Microsoft says its doing this to avoid redesigning parts of Windows 7 to be compatible with the newer processors. Whatever other motivations may be at work, it's also an oblique way to get businesses to move to Windows 10—perhaps before they might otherwise want or need to.

There are some exceptions. Microsoft compiled a list of Skylake-based systems (currently slightly more than 100 models from 10 different manufacturers—including many popular business-oriented systems from Dell, HP, and Lenovo) that have a short reprieve. Systems on this list—which is still being periodically updated as of this writing—won't lose support until July 17, 2017, but that's still barely 18 months away.

The Windows 7 Support Clock is Ticking

One last vital piece of information: according to Microsoft's operating system sales lifecycle, manufacturers can sell PCs with Windows 7 Professional pre-installed only until October 31, 2016. After that, PCs will be available only with—you guessed it, Windows 10.

It bears reiterating that Windows 7 on pre-Skylake PCs will continue to receive support and updates for four more years—so there is no imperative to upgrade them now if you don't want to. Also, we should be clear that we're not disparaging Windows 10—we happen to like it a lot.

Small business owner should be aware and prepare. Because whether you like it or not—whether you're ready or not, Microsoft's making it increasingly more difficult to steer clear of Windows 10.

Joseph Moran is a technology writer and IT consultant specializing in services for consumers and small businesses. He's written extensively for numerous print and online publications, and is the author of File Management Made Simple, Windows Edition from Apress.

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