Am I screwed?
No, you’re not screwed.
You may very well be able to keep using Windows 7 safely, just as a small number of people continue to use Windows XP to this day.
You simply have to take responsibility for keeping yourself safe — even more than before.
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Keeping Windows 7
The analogy I used in the previous version of this article for Windows XP was this: it’s like keeping your old 1957 Chevy that still runs great.
Sure, it’s a simpler vehicle, but it has no seatbelts, air bags, navigation system, backing-up camera, anti-lock brakes, nor whatever else we take for granted on modern vehicles. Getting leaded gas or an equivalent is a bit of a problem, and driving the old girl requires a different skill set — for example, do you still remember how (and why?) to pump the brakes?
And, of course, when something fails, you have a problem. You won’t easily find a repair shop to help, not to mention replacement parts, and there certainly won’t be any fixes or recalls.
As long as you’re willing to work around all that, you can certainly keep driving it until it fails beyond repair.
Staying safe with Windows 7
To be honest, there’s nothing really new or special you need to do to use Windows 7 beyond its support window (which ends, as of this writing, January 14, 2020). You just need to pay more attention to the things you should be doing already.
Keep your security software up to date. Keep all your other applications up to date. Be even more skeptical when it comes to downloads and emails.
Keep doing all the things that allow us to use our computers and the internet safely — with a little more attention than before.
Over time, more and more software vendors will stop supporting Windows 7.
If that includes your security software, you’ll need to find a replacement right away. Microsoft Security Essentials — my general recommendation — will keep working for some time independent of the Windows 7 cut-off date, but Microsoft won’t support it forever.
As long as they keep supporting Windows 7, you can keep running it. The moment it doesn’t, you need to find an alternative.
Pragmatically, that’s true for any software you run: at some point, Windows 7 support will be dropped, and you’ll need to either find an alternative, stop using that software, or upgrade to a supported version of Windows.
Outdated software as a security risk
The risk of using any unsupported software, but particularly an unsupported operating system, is this:
- At some point, a vulnerability will be discovered that will not be fixed
- Malware will exploit that vulnerability
You’ll then be relying on only your security tools — and your own common sense — to protect you.
Depending on who you talk to, this is either almost certain doom or a complete non-issue.
Naturally, I fall somewhere in between.
As we’ve seen with Windows XP, predictions of catastrophe failed to materialize. As I said, there are folks happily and safely running it today. But there are also those who, faced with critical tools, favorite applications, and even hardware dropping support for the OS, have chosen to upgrade.
The same will likely be true for Windows 7; continuing to use it will eventually become more irritating than it’s worth.
Exactly how long it’ll take for that to happen depends, of course, on you.