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Guidry: Windows 7 and the risks of using older systems

Triona Guidry
Triona Guidry

Microsoft has started to remind users that Windows 7 reaches the end of its extended support life cycle in January 2020. What does that mean for consumers, and is it necessary to upgrade?

When an operating system reaches end-of-life status, that means it no longer receives bug fixes and security updates. Without regular security patches, such systems become more and more vulnerable to viruses, malware and other internet threats. That’s why Microsoft has started displaying alert notices on Windows 7 machines, reminding users to upgrade.

Let’s backtrack for a moment and talk about the difference between upgrades and updates. Upgrades are new versions of your system software. Updates (or patches) are bug fixes and security improvements for your existing system. If you’re upgrading, you’re changing your system entirely, say from Windows 7 to Windows 10. If you’re updating, you’re making sure your current version of Windows has the latest fixes.

Many people dismiss the risks of using older operating systems, assuming that suggestions to upgrade are just a way for Microsoft and PC vendors to make more money. But that’s not the whole story.

Older operating systems are more vulnerable to modern threats. Just because you can continue using Windows 7 or its predecessors doesn’t mean that you should. You may think you are saving money by continuing to use an old machine, but in reality, you’re running a big risk, especially if you use your computer to check your bank accounts and otherwise manage your finances.

Ransomware encrypts your computer and holds your data for ransom. 

Keyloggers record every keystroke you type, including passwords, bank account numbers and credit card numbers. Older systems are far more vulnerable to these and similar threats because they no longer receive security updates.

Although some antivirus companies will continue to offer Windows 7 protection, that’s not necessarily much help because Windows 7 has been out for so long that it’s trivial to exploit its weaknesses. Those weaknesses are inherent in the system software itself, and antivirus software can’t fix that.

To prepare for your upgrade, assess whether your current PC can run Windows 10. The good news is that if your computer is relatively recent, you may well be able to do so without needing to buy a new one. 

You can check with your manufacturer for details. Most printers and other peripherals also should work, but again, you should verify that through the manufacturer’s website.

What about software compatibility? You’ll have to check the apps you use. Most common apps already are compatible with Windows 10. If you have older or niche apps, you may need to contact the developer to find out whether they’ll work with Windows 10.

If you’re worried about Microsoft’s track record of forcing updates on unsuspecting users, there’s good news. As of this month’s update for Windows 10, users once more have the ability to control when and how updates are applied. I still recommend you apply updates as soon as possible, but at least this provides greater control.

You’ll find more information on Windows 10 compatibility and upgrade options on Microsoft’s website.

• Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer. Her Tech Tips blog, www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips, offers tech support advice for Windows and Mac users.

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