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What to Do With Your Old Windows 7 Computer After Microsoft Ends Support and Updates

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Rest in Peace Windows 7

RIP WIN 7. It was great while it lasted. Windows 7 was released back in the Autumn of 2009, as the successor to the fairly unloved Vista. Its had an excellent innings for an operating system. The fact that, more than ten years later, an estimated 400 million PC users are still running Windows 7 is testament to its popularity and functionality. However the end is nigh, no worse than that really, the end is here. Now.

Microsoft stopped mainstream support for Windows 7 back in 2015, that was the beginning of the end! Now, in January 2020, despite those 400 million users still clinging on, the life support plug is finally pulled! From 14th January 2020, extended support of the OS will also end. This means Microsoft will no longer provide technical support, software updates, security updates, and fixes after January 14, 2020. This means that your Windows 7 PC will not be as secure as it's today, potentially leaving you vulnerable to hackers, viruses and the loss of personal data.

If you're still running a Windows 7 PC in 2020 you really should not ignore this. All those updates and patches are provided by OS developers for a reason; they keep things running smoothly and safely. The fact they won't happen anymore is leaving Win7 to wither and die, becoming older, weaker and vulnerable to attack. With 400 million machines still running the operating system as this happens it is almost inevitable unscrupulous hackers will target those users who carry on regardless. Whether it is through ignorance, laziness or pure head in the sand hope for the best denial, doing nothing is really asking for trouble. So wise up, read on, and pick your path forward post Windows 7!

Good old Windows 7

Windows 7 sticker on a laptop computer

Windows 7 sticker on a laptop computer

Option 1. Windows 7 is dead. Long live Win7!

The fact that so many PC users are still on machines running Windows 7 obviously says something about its stability, functionality and usability to date. There are a lot of people out there that haven't wanted to change or 'upgrade' their ageing systems and probably still would rather not. its that age old wisdom; 'if ain't broke, don't fix it!'

As I've mentioned continuing on with business as usual into 2020 really wouldn't be a smart move, primarily due to inevitable rising risk of vulnerability to security threats. However there is one simple thing a happy old school Windows 7 user can do to carry on enjoying their PC as it is; disconnect from the internet! Remember life before the web, pre dial up connections? If your old machine could still do what you want from it without being hooked up to the internet this one simple move could easily be the quickest, cheapest and simplest solution to the post WIN 7 headache.

I know, in 2020 it is hard to imagine a computer that isn't a portal to the wonders of the world wide web, but consider what you actually want that old Win7 machine for. I bet there are a lot of them out there that are used to perform routine office tasks on old software that's never been upgraded because it just does the job required. Or have you got a collection of old school PC games you just love and that's the main thing that old Windows7 laptop at home gets used for? If your Windows 7 machine could do what you want as a standalone machine with no ethernet connection, no wifi signal, then simply cutting the cord, so to speak, could solve the problem for you.

Of course you'll want an alternative device to access the internet still, I imagine you have something, right? A phone, tablet, other more up to date computer? No Problem. If you take this simple approach to side footing the Win7 end of life problem one other thing to be cautious of would be using any external storage devices with your old machine. Pre-internet viruses used to hop from one machine to the next via floppy discs being used to transfer data. Its unlikely you'll come across those now, but be wary of plugging in a usb stick, external drive or using a CD/DVD to could be carrying something nasty. Ideally just leave that old Win7 PC ticking over as it is, alone, happy and healthy. Long live Windows 7!

Option 2. Upgrade to Windows 10.

Windows 10 is the current version of the long running OS and has been around, whilst being continually updated and tweaked, for five years now. When first released Win10 was available as a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8 users. This offer lasted for the first year of its availability and is no longer officially an option for the majority of users. However a little googling will reveal users out there suggesting it is still possible to upgrade a properly registered Windows 7 machine for free. I'll let you explore that possibility if its of interest, but it isn't a route I'd personally recommend.

Here's why;

Microsoft lists the Windows 10 minimum hardware requirements as:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor or SoC.
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit.
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS.
  • Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver.
  • Display: 800x600.

Good luck with that! The word minimum is being used to an extreme of plausibility here, in my humble opinion. What I mean by that is, yes, with a machine with the above specs you could install Windows 10, just don't expect it to work very well. Win10, is a much more demanding OS than Win7, installing it is one thing, using it another entirely. On the above specs an old machine 'upgraded' to Win10 would be painfully slow and troublesome to use in the extreme. This is one of the main reasons many Windows 7 users declined the free Windows 10 upgrade offer; knowing their older hardware was better off running to older contemporary operating system.

My own experience of Windows 10 was having taken the upgrade from WIn7 on my acer 5732z laptop, a nearly ten year old machine but with much better than the minimum stated specification. My Acer has a dual core 2+ghz processor, 4GB ram and a 500gb hard disk. I lived with Windows 10 on it for several, increasingly frustrating years. I got used to making a cup of tea, and drinking it, while waiting for the thing to be ready after powering on. Working on the machine gave me, lets say, plenty of thinking time. It wasn't good, in the end I flipped and my acer still lives on, via option 4.

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Option 3. Buy a new Windows 10 computer.

Just go out and buy yourself a new up to date machine running Windows 10, easy right! This is the official Microsoft recommended course of action. Of course a lot of long standing Windows 7 users have reacted to this with some annoyance and scepticism. No one likes getting stuck one by the big corporate giant after all. It is an understandable reaction, if you're happy with your old machine, it still does the job for you, why should you be forced to go out and spend on new gear you didn't feel you needed or wanted?

To be fair to Microsoft though, this has been a long time coming. Windows 7 is by operating system standards, a very old version. Microsoft have effectively already supported it for five years beyond retirement. The problem of ageing and low specification hardware is also a real one, as outline in option 2. While upgrading your OS to Windows 10 may be doable it will often not really be a very workable solution unless you have some seriously upgraded hardware.

The cost of new computers is relatively small and Microsoft's claim that a new machine will provide a far superior experience is valid. As an example my bother in law recently purchased an Asus Cloudbook with Windows 10 and Office installed for less than $200. Its a compact laptop akin to a chromebook and ideally suited to the way many people use computers now; permanently working online. He's a seasoned Mac user, so used to high quality equipment, and was seriously impressed with the quality and value offered by Asus.

There's no doubt that the quality and spec of a new computer like this, designed to run Windows 10, will provide a much better user experience than struggling with older hardware trying to run Win10.

Windows 10 cloudbook

Linux Mint installed on old Windows 7 laptop

Old Windows 7 laptop revived with Linux Mint installed as new operating system.

Old Windows 7 laptop revived with Linux Mint installed as new operating system.

Option 4. Say goodbye to Windows. Old hardware runs better with Linux.

This might be considered the nuclear option by some, there's no doubt it is a bigger leap, but I would argue potentially the best way forward for many who would like to keep their old PC going.

Linux is an entirely different operating system that comes in many different flavours, or distributions (distros) as they are known. The linux world is no longer as mysterious and scary as it may once have been to the average windows PC user. While you can still get distros that are intimidating and present a steep steep learning curve for the linux novice, there are equally many distributions that have been built to welcome the new user with a user friendly and accessible experience out of the box straight after install. Some of these are particularly aimed at being easy to get going with for new users switching over from windows. Two examples worth checking out are Mint OS and Zorin OS.

I have tinkered with Linux before, using both Ubuntu and Mandrake, but am by no means far beyond a novice user. Switching to linux is very doable for any competent PC user. Remember my ageing acer 5732z laptop from option 2? I finally gave up trying to live with Windows 10 on it and decided to try and squeeze some more life out of it with linux.

Before a taking the plunge I did a test install on a similar era but even lower spec netbook I had sitting unused. Having settled on MInt as my distro to try I downloaded the OS and created an installer usb. There is plenty of guidance available on the web on how to install linux so I won't go into a step by step guide here, suffice to say the process is no more difficult than installing windows. Many Linux distros also come in lightweight versions specifically for older low spec hardware, and I picked this for the netbook. The installation was a success with everything working smoothly after the OS was up and running; linux has much better support for drivers and hardware now so the days of having to tinker to get everything to work are thankfully in the past!

For the the laptop installation I used the main version of Mint and also decided to upgrade the machine by installing an ssd. SSD drives are much quicker than conventional spinning hard drives and I wanted to use one for the new OS and software to maximise speed. With my RAM already maxed out this was the only worthwhile upgrade possible and a small (240gb) ssd for the OS and software is pretty affordable. Of course installing an ssd for a new installation of Windows 10 would be equally beneficial. I've kept the original HD for data, installing the new ssd drive in place of the optical DVD drive on the laptop.

So far I'm very happy with the results, it really has made a laptop I was on the point of binning once again practically useful. MInt is easy to use and will feel very familiar to anyone used to a windows environment. It comes with a lot of bundled software for common tasks already installed and adding more is easy via the software manager. As a photographer I've had no problem finding linux alternatives to the windows software I was previously using. An added benefit is that being an open source environment, Linux operating systems and software are generally free too!

If you feel a little adventurous, this is the option I'd recommend! There is also, for toe dippers, the option to install linux on a new partition of your existing drive creating a dual boot system. A final word of warning; installing a new OS on an existing hard drive could be hazardous to your data! Indeed a straight install will format the drive wiping all data; always backup any data you want to keep before you start.

So, windows 7 user, what will you be doing?

Life after Windows 7

© 2020 alexhd57

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