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Adios Windows 7: End of an Era, Not the World for SMBs

Small and midsize businesses will be able to purchase continued security support till January 2023 for Windows 7.

Windows 7

Microsoft’s most popular operating system – Windows 7 – has finally reached the ‘end of life’ on January 14, 2020. When Windows 7 was launched in 2009, the iPhone was in its infancy and the iPad did not exist. The PC reigned supreme. So much has changed in a decade. PC sales have seen a steady decline over the last seven years and PC has been superseded by the smartphone, the tablet or digital assistants for many work. And forget the PC – Windows itself is no longer the defining product for Microsoft that it once was.

It is the end of an era in the PC industry as we say goodbye to Windows 7, whose impact in the SMB and enterprise markets was phenomenal (not to forget its popularity in the consumer market as well). However, it’s certainly not the end of the world!

What it means for small businesses

The popularity of Windows 7 among the businesses isn’t hard to decipher. As Nishant Singh, Head of Technology and Telecoms Data at GlobalData says, “Windows 7 was released in 2009 and enterprises, which had held back on spending owing to the recession during the late 2000s and early 2010s, did not hesitate to upgrade their systems in the post-recession period.”

He believes that Windows 7’s long run was also owing to lackluster reception of Windows OS that followed or preceded it. Windows Vista, which was the OS released before Windows 7, gathered quite a bit of negative reception for its steep hardware requirements. Windows 7’s release helped erode that negativity and restored enterprises’ confidence in the Windows OS ecosystem.

“Unfortunately for Microsoft, Windows 7 was followed by Windows 8, which like Windows Vista, was again mired in controversy owing to the changes to the UI, in particular, the Start Menu. Sandwiched between two unpopular Windows releases, it is no surprise that enterprises held on to Windows 7 as long as they did,” Singh recalls.

But times, they are a changin

As we know, when a version of Windows is succeeded by a new one, its feature-updates are the first to come to an end, which happened for Windows 7 in 2016. But critical security updates were still provided by Microsoft for licensed systems (till date). That’s good news for any business – it means that systems are secure from the latest exploits and threats, even if the business doesn’t have the latest features.

However, once the operating system reaches its end of life date, no further security patches are offered, a reason why businesses still using Windows 7 will be at an immediate risk. As Satnam Narang, Senior Research Engineer at Tenable said, “It is imperative that consumers and businesses take steps to ensure their systems are not vulnerable.”

“Users of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 who opt not to migrate to newer versions are at risk of being preyed upon by bad actors, leaving them vulnerable to attacks especially since these systems won’t be supported by Microsoft,” he says.

Many Windows 7 users have already started to move to Windows 10 ever since Microsoft decided to end support for Windows 7. Early 2018, the number of Windows 10 installations surpassed those of Windows 7. Despite the impending end of life, over one-third of the PCs in corporate environments are still running the Windows 7, which is still a significant number, according to the Kaspersky research.

Moving to Windows 10

With Windows 7 all set to fade into oblivion now exposing PCs to security risks, Windows 10 will make a strong dent in the mid-market segment, believes experts. According to data and analytics firm GlobalData, the market for new PCs in Asia was worth $39.4bn in 2019. Of this, India accounted for around 20% (nearly US$7.7bn).

With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft finally provided a viable alternative to enterprises looking to upgrade to the latest version of Windows. However, some initial confusion around Windows 10’s licensing and the Windows-as-a-service model meant that businesses were not too keen to move on from an established Windows 7 environment. But Singh says, all that is a thing of the past now; Windows 10 has now evolved into a mature, modern and secure OS.

The option for businesses still on Windows 7 will be to either upgrade their licenses to Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise via Volume Licensing for existing PCs, or to buy new PCs altogether. But, Singh adds that most enterprises in the cost-conscious markets will choose the option of upgrading their existing compatible PCs to Windows 10, as this will provide the cheaper option.

Not the end of the world

Meanwhile Microsoft has clarified that the PC is not dead, and will remain the primary device for many office and knowledge workers in the foreseeable future. Outside work however, PC’s role is doubtful. For that matter, the definition of the PCs is getting blurry. PC makers have come up with a late burst of creativity offering devices in varied shapes and sizes. Take for instance, Microsoft’s Surface, which is a PC that looks a lot like a tablet. Likewise, Lenovo’s X1 Fold is a folding screen and a tablet; in fact, folding and detachable PCs are now mainstream. But as experts observe, none of these innovations will mean the return of the PC’s heyday, but they do suggest that, whatever operating system it runs, the PC will have a useful niche in the coming years.

Read more: Digital Workspace: Preparing For The Next Technology Shift

With more small businesses transforming in 2020s, the market needs to move away from the traditional ways of working and work on ways to become more productive. For example, as-a-service represents a huge opportunity for SMBs – who do not need an IT department which means they require a service and that often includes support, maintenance, back-end IT and all of the add-ons.

Also, good news is, Microsoft announced that SMBs will not be automatically cut off from Windows 7 security updates as of January, so long as they’re willing to pay for extended updates. Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, in a blog post mentions: “Businesses of all sizes can purchase Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU) by January 2023. The extended Windows 7 security updates option had previously only been made available to Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Enterprise customers in Volume Licensing. It will be sold to small and midsize businesses on a per-device basis and is available through partners, the blog post says.

Meanwhile, the PC market experienced growth for the first time since 2011, driven by vibrant business demand for Windows 10 upgrades, according to analyst firm Gartner. Mikako Kitagawa, senior principal analyst at Gartner, says, “We expect this growth to continue through this year even after Windows 7 support comes to an end this month, as many businesses in emerging regions such as China, Eurasia and the emerging Asia/Pacific have not yet upgraded.”

While it remains to be seen how Microsoft eventually handles the release of Windows going forward, for now, it appears that there will be no major releases of Windows beyond Windows 10. As such, Windows 10 provides a clear upgrade path for all businesses that need to move on from Windows 7, pointing to the fact that the only constant in the technology industry is change and it’s time SMBs should wake up and smell the coffee!

 

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