Leo, we know that support ends for Windows XP in a couple of weeks. What do we know about other versions of Windows?
We know quite a bit. In fact, Microsoft maintains a very public list of their end-of-support dates. Let’s go over them and what they mean – because “end-of-support” can mean different things.
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The master list
First, you can find Microsoft’s public list at go.askleo.com/winlifecycle.
For each operating system, there are three important bits of information.
- The latest service pack, which must usually be installed to receive any kind of support for as long as possible;
- The end of mainstream support;
- The end of extended support.
So what’s the difference between mainstream and extended support?
End of support versus end of support
You can click through a link on that page and there’s another page that has a fairly lengthy and somewhat technical definition. But what it boils down to for the average user is this:
- Mainstream support means that things like bug fixes that aren’t related to security, as well as possible responses to requested design and feature changes, could all happen.
- Extended support means that Microsoft will only fix things that are security risks; or bugs that could result in some serious data loss.
After extended support ends, all that really remains are previously published Knowledge Base articles and possibly some limited Q&A in the product forums – although at that point I’d expect them to be almost 100% non-Microsoft support with answers and discussions coming from other product users.
It’s important to realize that all that “end of support” really means is that Microsoft won’t be making any further changes to the product. The product will keep working as long as there is hardware out there that supports it.
To put it all into perspective, mainstream support for Windows XP ended in April 2009. And of course, extended support ends on April 8 of this year.
Microsoft has some rules associated with mainstream and extended support ending. According to those rules, both types of support will end no less than five years after a product’s release and/or no less than two years after the next version is released. And how long they will support boils down to whichever of those two is longer.
So, they could have pulled Windows XP’s mainstream support much, much earlier, like five years after it’s release date or two years after Vista was released. Obviously, those are the minimums and XP was actually supported much longer than anyone ever planned or promised.
Post-XP versions of Windows
Most operating systems – not just those from Microsoft but Mac and Linux as well – have a usable supported life of about five years.
- Mainstream support for Windows Vista with service pack 2 installed ended two years ago on April 10, 2012. Extended support, in other words security fixes only, will last for another three years ending on April 11, 2017.
- Windows 7 with SP 1 installed comes to its mainstream end of support date next year: January 13, 2015. The end of extended support is January 14, 2020.
- And Windows 8, – actually Windows 8.1 – will have mainstream support until January 9, 2018 and extended support all the way into 2023.
Now, of course, these dates are all subject to change, as we saw with Windows XP. Its support was actually extended a couple of times to well beyond its original planned end-of-life. The bottom line is that in this industry, things change. They keep progressing forward. The amount of time that Windows XP has been supported is unprecedented. Most operating systems – not just those from Microsoft but Mac and Linux as well – have a usable supported life of about five years. Rather than planning on them lasting significantly longer than that, it would instead be wise to plan for that turnover, to stay both current and safe.