More correctly, what doesn’t happen?
No, you won’t be forced to upgrade.
You can keep using it, but it’s important to understand the risks involved.
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Windows 10 will continue to work after its end-of-support date (October 2025). Applications running on Windows 10 may even get updates after then, but that’s likely to end eventually as well. While doom and gloom is always predicted, you’re likely to be more affected by decreasing application and vendor support than you are by malware specifically targeting Windows 10 vulnerabilities. Making sure you have good security software and backups is key to continuing to use Windows 10 if you choose (like it is now).
Windows 10 support schedule
In How Long Will Windows 10 Be Supported? I cover the expected support schedule for Windows 10. The “rule” is that each feature release will be supported for 18 months after its general availability.
- 21H2 (the release current as of this writing) will be supported until the first half of 2023.
- 22H1 until the second half of 2023
- 22H2 until the first half of 2024
- 23H1 until the second half of 2024
- 23H2 until the first half of 2025
- 24H1 would be supported until the second half of 2025 — most probably October 14, 2025, the official end-of-support date for Windows 10.
If you cannot or choose not to update to a specific feature release, then for you, Windows 10 end of support arrives on whatever day your currently installed feature release loses support.
End of support?
The only thing that happens when support ends is that no further fixes are available, even for security-related issues.
In fact, at the end, security-related issues are the only fixes you’ll get. Actual feature updates stop earlier, typically when the last “feature release” happens.
So whatever Windows 10 looks like then is what it’ll be from then on. No changes, no fixes, no ‘nuthin.
Applications may still get updates
Just because Windows stops getting updates doesn’t mean the applications you use will stop getting updates. That depends entirely on the application vendor and when they decide to stop supporting Windows 10.
Some may stop on Microsoft’s date. Others may stop sometime thereafter. You simply need to monitor updates for the programs you care about.
Someday, those updates will probably stop as well. It’ll be up to you to decide if you care.
So what’s the risk?
Good question. The gloom and doom scenario is that there’s an unpatched vulnerability to be found. Hackers will exploit it, and Microsoft won’t fix it.
The more pragmatic risk is that eventually, your other software will no longer be updated. You’ll have to figure out whether you can live with it or find alternatives.
The other risk is that when your computer dies, you won’t be able to get Windows 10 for its replacement. Once again, you’ll face a decision: move to the latest, most current version of Windows, switch to something else entirely, or live with the risks.
Mitigate the risks
Perhaps the most important step to keeping yourself safe is to make sure your security software continues to work and continues to be updated. If your security software is no longer supported, find an alternative immediately.
Microsoft Security, built into Windows 10, may or may not continue to receive updates. In the past, the Windows security software did continue to be updated after Windows itself was past end of support, but as Microsoft Security is more tightly integrated with Windows 10, it’s unclear if that will continue. Make sure to check when the time comes.
The other important step I recommend is my old standby: regular and complete backups. If something goes wrong, you’ll want to restore to a backup. This will also protect you to some extent when Microsoft eventually takes existing Windows 10 updates and activation offline. That action would prevent you from downloading Windows 10 from scratch, but if you have a backup, you can still restore it.1
We’ve been here before
If what we’re experiencing sounds hauntingly familiar, that’s because it is. This is exactly what happened with Windows 7 some years ago, and Windows XP before it.2
And in the light of many dire predictions of catastrophe and doom… nothing happened. There were no catastrophic malware outbreaks targeting Windows 7 or Windows XP. There was no list of known vulnerabilities that hackers kept secret until they knew they wouldn’t be fixed.
Windows 7, Vista, and XP users were probably more affected by the decreasing hardware and software support for the applications they cared about.
I expect Windows 10’s “death” to be very similar: a slow fade into obscurity.
You don’t have to be in a rush to abandon Windows 10 just yet, nor do you really need to worry that much about the end-of-support date. As long as you continue to use your computer safely, you should be fine. Eventually, yes, you’ll want to upgrade, either because the software you care about stops working or you get a new machine with a new version of Windows pre-installed.
Until then, subscribe to Confident Computing! More information about Windows 10 as it nears its end of life, as well as less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.