Can You (and Should You) Continue to Use Windows 7 in 2020?

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Over the years, Windows 7 has built its reputation as a stable and highly reliable Windows version. Despite Microsoft ending its extended support on January 14, 2020, Windows 7 remains quite popular with a sizable chunk of desktop and laptop users. Can you continue to use Windows 7 in the future?

To answer this question, we will deep-dive into different aspects of Windows 7 usage past the end of support date. Our topics of interest include whether Microsoft has announced any new updates on this matter, and whether the outdated Windows 7 is still technically secure. If not, what are the possible workarounds to ensure smooth operations in the future? We will also check whether the unsupported Windows 7 can run your existing software applications smoothly.

Who Is Still Using Windows 7 in 2020?

Actually, quite a lot of people. As of April 2020, the user base of Windows 7 in the desktop/laptop segment stands a little over 25 percent. The main reason it’s so popular is due to its excellent compatibility with legacy apps Many people want to continue using the same software they have been comfortable with for a long time.

Latest Updates on Windows 7 Support

For all intents and purposes, Microsoft has closed shop on Windows 7 for good since January 14, 2020. It means there will be no technical support for any issues, software updates, or security patches. Thus, Microsoft is warning users to quickly upgrade to Windows 10 or their system can be left exposed to security and performance issues.

In reality, however, considering the huge volume of users left in the lurch, some Windows 7 editions have more leeway. Those who are “already enrolled” in Microsoft’s Extended Security Update (ESU) program comprising Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise, Server, and other higher subscriptions, will continue to get security updates till at least January 12, 2021 (possibly until 2023). Only these users can download the latest updates called “KB4556843” at this link.

As of the of this writing, all Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate editions no longer enjoy official Microsoft support.

Is Windows 7 Technically (in)Secure?

If you are a non-ESU Windows 7 user, it is better to migrate to Windows 10. Although Windows 7 will not stop working on your computer, Microsoft’s lack of support means you will no longer get any security patches. It does make it technically insecure similar to Windows Vista, XP, and other older systems.

As time progresses, cyber criminals will be increasingly targeting those computers that haven’t migrated to Windows 10. In other words, most Windows 7 computers can only be “used at your own risk.”

Security Workarounds in Windows 7

If you want to continue using Windows 7 now despite the warnings, you need to develop your own expertise in keeping the system healthy. It is simply knowing how to operate a firewall and antivirus software and applying your own Internet security.

Everything you need to fix your Windows 7 security issues can be accessed from its “Action Center” feature. To enable it, go to the Start menu or open the right-end of the taskbar. Here you can turn the firewall on and enable virus protection.

You may buy any common consumer antivirus software listed on Microsoft’s official website. Some of them, such as Avira, are completely free to use. Also. make sure your Windows Defender is up to date. It requires a simple update which takes a few minutes.

On Windows 7, Windows Defender has been currently superseded by Microsoft Security Essentials (provided you already updated). It does not run on Windows 8 and later versions. You can also enable Internet security, user accounts protection, and other features, if convenient. All these options are available from Action Center. A decent amount of RAM is needed to run so many security features smoothly. (~8GB is proper.)

Performance Workarounds in Windows 7

As Microsoft is no longer going to update your system, you will have to periodically review it for performance assessment. Windows 7 provides a handy tool called “Windows Experience Index” for this purpose, available on the “System” panel. The tool measures the capability of your computer’s hardware and software configuration and expresses this measurement as a number called a base score. The value of this base score ranges from 1.0 to 7.9.

In the above example, the graphics are a challenge. This means that it is possible to get a quick improvement in performance by upgrading the graphics card or increasing the RAM, if possible.

First, go for a “disk cleanup” which is readily available from the Windows 7 Start menu. This tool deletes unnecessary or temporary files on your hard disk so you can increase the amount of storage space you have.

Search “Manage Offline Files” in the Windows menu. It can be reduced all the way to “zero.”

Next, run “disk defragmenter” from the Start menu. Fragmentation makes your hard disk do extra work that can slow things down. Removable storage media can also become fragmented.

For all remaining computer problems in Windows 7, head to the “Troubleshooting” options. Here you can fix any issues related to audio recording, shared files, appearance of folders and files, and more.

As shown below, the Windows Experience Index score went up from 2.5 to 2.9 in this example. In the absence of any updates from Microsoft, you will have to manually follow the above steps to keep the PC performance at a healthy level.

Compatibility with Applications

Most newer applications that have been designed for Windows 10 may not work very smoothly on Windows 7. However, if you are satisfied with the performance of your existing third-party applications, there is not much to complain about.

Presently, Microsoft’s Office software is compatible with Windows 7, and expect it to remain that way for Office 2016 until 2026. You will not get Office 2019 support which comes with advanced features such as text-to-speech, translator, focus mode, and dark themes. If you have a Microsoft 365 subscription, it will continue to support Windows 7.

Things can get a little dicey for browsers. Presently, both Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge have announced that they will only support Windows 7 until July 2021. However, if you don’t want to be limited by those choices, you can go for many lightweight browsers which are strongly compatible with Chrome extensions.

For most other everyday applications, you should not be expecting any major problems. However, do remember that your Windows 7 system will not support futuristic features such as voice assistant, Windows Hello, and compatibility with smart speakers and other cool gadgets. As a final note, while you can continue to use Windows 7 computers, you shouldn’t. It is best to use it as a second computer rather than your main one.

Image credit: Windows 7 Upgrade
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