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FAQ: Microsoft mandates new Windows support rules

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 21, 2016
New PCs must run -- with some exemptions -- Windows 10, company insists.

(This is the second time that Microsoft has given a year-and-a-half heads up in the last two years: It provided a 17-month warning before quashing support for older versions of Internet Explorer (IE) last week.)

Microsoft hasn't officially released the exempt list, but PCWorld, like Computerworld an IDG publication, published a preliminary list on Friday. It includes devices from the usual Big 3 suspects: Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, which are ranked in that order by research firms in number of systems shipped globally.

What happens after July 17, 2017? If you own an exempt PC, Microsoft expects you to upgrade it from Windows 7 or 8.1 to Windows 10 by that date.

Failing that, you'll get only what Microsoft characterized as "the most critical Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 security updates," which while vague, likely means either all patches for flaws rated "critical" in Microsoft's four-step hierarchy, or only a subset of those so labeled -- with the Redmond, Wash. company the arbiter of what "most critical" means.

In other words, a Skylake-powered PC from the exempt list running Windows 7 or 8.1 after the cut-off will receive fewer security fixes than a Haswell-or-earlier device running the same OS.

I'll be buying a Skylake-equipped PC shortly, but it won't be on Microsoft's you're-special list. What do I get? Nothing, nada, zilch, zero on the update front unless that device runs Windows 10.

I'm not in the market for a new PC now, but will be in a couple of years. What do I need to know? This tidbit from Microsoft says it all: "Going forward, as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support."

Intel's seventh-generation silicon, code-named "Kaby Lake," will be supported only if it's running Windows 10. (Kaby Lake, as its name suggests, is a refresh of Skylake, and is expected to launch in the second half of this year.)

Down the line even further, customers must be running whatever Microsoft labels its "latest Windows platform." Presumably that would still be Windows 10, but even though Microsoft has claimed that 10 is its last version, it could change its mind. It does that a lot lately.

Is this new rule just for businesses, or consumers, too? Microsoft called out "enterprises" in its blog post, but there's no reason to think that the support policy changes don't also apply to consumers.

The difference is that consumers rarely change an OS on a new PC, unlike businesses, which for decades have "downgraded" new hardware to an older OS in order to maintain a homogeneous environment.


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