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What Happens at Windows 10 End of Support?

More correctly, what doesn’t happen?

Windows 10 RIP
(Image: canva.com)
The end of support for Windows 10 means Microsoft will no longer issue security updates. Here's how to continue using it safely.
Applies to Windows: 10
Will Windows 10 keep working after its end of support? Can I keep using it? Or will Microsoft force me to upgrade to Windows 11?

No, you won’t be forced to upgrade.

You can keep using it, but it’s important to understand the risks involved.

One thing we’ve learned, from being here before, and before that, is that the risks may not be as horrific as some make them out to be.

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TL;DR:

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.

Nothing.

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.

Do this

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.

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Footnotes & References

1: I believe Windows XP is in this state right now.

2: To the extent that I began this article by duplicating the Windows 7 version of it.

22 comments on “What Happens at Windows 10 End of Support?”

    • Although I already had a Windows 10 ISO from years ago, you reminded me to go download a more recent copy. Well, all I found on the Microsoft website was an ISO creation tool to download. This didn’t work on several machines and was spewing out hex error codes (still). I couldn’t find any solutions on Google. So, I went to my trusty Windows XP machine, and guess what? I was able to download the actual ISOs for both 32 and 64 bits.

      So, the moral of the story is that the answer to the question “What Happens at Windows 10 End of Support” is NOTHING. If you can still use it, continue to use it and nothing bad will happen to you. Otherwise, good riddance.

      Reply
  1. I have an old system which has unsupported hardware, with a help of few hacks it’s running Windows 11 fine. I might buy a new motherboard in rime but fir now it’s running great!

    Reply
  2. Is there not a viable alternative to Windows which one (amateur) could begin implementing as a more stable replacement?

    Reply
    • There is always Linux, although choosing which distribution (variety) can be daunting. I’ve tried a few myself and for me, I found Q4OS to be very easy to setup and use. It can be installed just as if it’s a Windows application (and removed, too), it detected all of my hardware and has its own application “store.” 99% of the applications are free, so “store” isn’t really an accurate description. Q4OS is also free unless you opt to pay for support. You can select to dual-boot so you’ll be able to choose either Windows or Q4OS when starting your computer.

      https://www.q4os.org – Go to the Downloads tab to select which version you want to install.

      For other choices, see:

      https://www.majorgeeks.com/content/page/best_linux_distro_windows.html

      https://www.zdnet.com/article/best-linux-desktops-for-beginners/

      https://techviral.net/best-linux-distros-for-windows-users/

      https://www.fossmint.com/linux-distribution-for-windows-users/

      There will be some Windows applications that won’t run under Linux or a Windows emulator, but there’s almost always a similar application. For example, there are several free MS-Office compatible suites available.

      For me, the hardest part of using Linux was learning the differences between it and Windows, and there are quite a few. The Terminal (similar to using the Command Line in Windows) is used a lot and there are lots of commands you’ll either have to remember, or like me, make a cheat sheet. There are Linux forums online, but often the people who are supposed to help the newbies will say things like, “Do your research before you ask.” That’s not very helpful.

      On the plus side, there are distros of Linux that can run on old systems with very little RAM.

      Reply
    • What constitutes “more stable”?
      How much of an amateur? IE: what skill level?
      Do you use windows based software?

      If you are not using office or are willing to switch to something like Google Docs or open office, you can swap operating systems but beware of the skill level that may be needed.
      I have seen articles promoting how simple it is to convert a Windows computer to Chrom OS.
      Then you could use the Google online programs to replace the typical Office ones.
      I have not found any of the Office replacents to have the features I want, so my computer will continue running Win 10 until I want to upgrade to a new computer.

      Reply
    • The largest caveat to using a different OS is that Windows apps will probably nor run successfully although there are alternative programs that do the same/similar things. The largest roadblock will be if there are custom Windows programs (developed by your company) you must use for your job.

      With that said, GNU/Linux is a good, low-cost option for an alternative to Windows. There are two distributions I recommend for novice users. They are Linux Mint (https://linuxmint.com/) and Linux Lite (https://www.linuxliteos.com/). I dual boot Windows 11 with Linux Mint Debian Edition 5 (LMDE5) on my production desktop PC. I have an older laptop PC that cannot upgrade to Windows 11. It dual boots Windows 10 with Linux Lite. When Windows 10 reaches End of Life on October 24, 2025, I will remove it from that laptop and run Linux Lite or LMDE5 on it, but I’ll make that decision (about which one) in 2025.

      My best suggestion for anyone who is not familiar with GNU/Linux is that you download an iso installation image and use it to install the distribution of your choice into a virtual machine. After you have downloaded the GNU/Linux distribution you have decided to learn about using Linux with, note where it was downloaded (in Windows 10, usually into the ‘Downloads’ folder). You will need to know this later.

      If you decide to install a GNU/Linux distribution in a virtual machine, I suggest you get Oracle’s Virtual Box (https://www.virtualbox.org/). It is free, and easy to use. I use Microsoft’s Hyper-V for the same purposes here, but it is not as user friendly as Virtual Box. After installing Virtual Box, run it (I am going to install Linux Lite in Virtual Box to give you guidance). Read the Welcome message, then to install the GNU/Linux distribution you want to learn to use first, click the ‘New’ (blue sun) icon. A ‘create Virtual Machine’ dialog pops up.
      Enter the name of the distribution you will install in the Name field.
      You can change the ‘Machine Folder’, but I recommend keeping the default.
      When I entered Linux Lite in the Name field, the Type field changed from ‘Microsoft Windows’ to ‘Linux’. Make sure that ‘Linux’ is in the Type field. If not, click the drop-down arrow at the right and choose ‘Linux’.
      It is safe to keep the default Version setting (Linux 2.6 / 3.x / 4.x (64 bit)).

      Click the ‘Next’ button.
      For the purpose of learning to use GNU/Linux, the default settings are probably O.K. but I suggest you double your chosen distribution’s minimum system requirements, so since Linux Lite wants 1 GB RAM, I’m going to provide 2GB RAM.
      Click the ‘Next’ button.
      ‘Create a virtual hard disk now’ should be selected by default. If not, select it, then click the ‘Create’ button.
      In the Hard disk file type dialog, keep the default setting (VDI (Virtual Box Disk Image)), then click the ‘Next’ button.
      In the ‘Storage on physical hard disk’ dialog, I recommend that you keep the default option of ‘Dynamically allocated’. If that choice is not already selected, choose it, then click the ‘Next’ button.
      In the ‘Create Virtual Hard Disk’ > ‘File location and size’ dialog, you should see the path to the virtual machine’s hard disk file on your computer’s file system., and its size (8.00 GB (default)). Linux Lite wants 20 GB storage, so I’m going to give it 40 GB. You can go larger if you have enough room on your computer.
      Click the ‘Create’ button.
      The dialog closes and you are returned to the original Virtual Box window. The virtual machine is created, but we still need to give it the installation/live image it will run to install your Linux distribution.

      With your VM entry selected at the left, click the ‘Settings’ (orange gear) icon in the tools bar.
      Choose ‘Storage’ at the left.
      Under the ‘Controller: IDE’ item in the Storage devices pane, choose the ‘Empty’ device (blue circle) icon.
      In the ‘Attributes’ pane (right), click the ‘IDE Secondary Device 0’ (blue circle) icon.
      Select ‘Choose a disk file…’.
      A Windows Explorer-like dialog pops up named ‘please choose a virtual optical disk file’. If it does not open to the ‘Downloads’ folder (or if you downloaded the image file somewhere else), navigate to the folder where you downloaded the GNU/Linux image file and select it. The dialog will close, and you should see the image file name listed next to the ‘blue circle’ icon under ‘Controller: IDE’. If so, click the ‘OK’ button.
      The ‘Settings’ dialog closes.

      All that’s left is to install your Linux distribution into the virtual machine by clicking the ‘Start’ (Green Right Arrow) icon.
      If you chose to install Linux Lite, choose the ‘direct install Linux Lite 6’ option, otherwise, use the default option for whichever distribution you chose.

      Your virtual machine will run slower than your computer. You may have to wait quite a while for your choices to be processed. Be patient! It is safe to choose the default settings for the distribution. Just follow the prompts to install your Linux distribution into the virtual machine. Note that the iso image only ‘sees’ the hard drive in the virtual machine (the hard drive file) so it is safe to tell the installer to use the entire drive for installation using the default settings.

      If you are in the USA, choose ‘English’ for the language, then in the next dialog keep the defaults of ‘English (US)’, otherwise choose the options that are appropriate for your language and keyboard type.

      In the Updates and other software dialog, I chose to enable both options, Download Updates while installing Linux, and Install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware and additional media formats.

      For Installation type, I chose Erase entire disk and Install Linux without touching Advanced features, then I click the Install button. Linux Lite asks for confirmation. Read what will be done to your virtual machine. If it looks like what you expect to happen, click the Continue button.

      The next screen asks for your time zone (where are you). I use the default New York because I’m in the Eastern Time Zone, so I click Continue.

      The next screen needs your user information. Enter your full name, whatever name you want to give to the vm, a username (I use my first name), and a password (twice to confirm). You can choose to require entering the password to log in, or to log in automatically (I choose to require my password to log in). Click the Continue button.

      As the installation proceeds, several screens are presented to tell you a bit about Linux Lite. Read them. They are a bit informative.
      When the installation is finished, a dialog will pop up telling you so. Click the OK button. In the next dialog, you must click the Restart Now button to reboot your VM. When I did this, the vm stopped responding to my mouse, so I clicked the red ‘x’ (the close button) in to top-right corner of the window, twice. The first time, I selected to tell the vm to shut down. When nothing happened, I re-pressed the close button and selected ‘close the vm’. After forcing a shut-down, I opened settings > storage > Linux Lite 6 > Optical Drive: IDE Secondary Device 0, the blue circle icon at the right, and in the pop-up dialog, I chose ‘Remove disk from virtual drive’, to remove the installation image from the vm. Click OK.

      Now you should be able to run your virtual machine and star to learn a bit about using Linux.

      Have fun,

      Ernie

      Reply
      • Running Linux in a virtual machine is one way to do it, but the most common way to try Linux is to install the .iso to a USB flash drive or DVD and boot from that. That gives you a full-blown Linux running directly off the DVD or USB drive without installing anything on your machine. When you are satisfied with that distribution, you can opt to install it on your machine either a dual-boot or removing Windows entirely.

        Reply
  3. Good day, I’ve used several different search engines looking for how to upgrade from Win 10- 21H2 to 24H1….there’s no link anywhere for that upgrade. I’m assuming one would have to purchase 24H1?

    Reply
  4. I have 2 not-so-old computers that won’t let me upgrade to Win 11 due to lack of hardware/processor support. This has never been a problem for me before, but when Win 10 support dies, do I just throw away two otherwise great computers?

    Reply
    • Doesn’t Leo’s article explain all that? Window 10 isn’t going to “die”, like dropping dead on a beautiful crisp fall morning. At least not unless Microsoft intentionally disables it, which it can do because the OS belongs to them, not you. You should be able to use Windows 10 for many, many years after support ends.

      Reply
  5. Still happily running Windows 7 professional on two laptops – a Lenovo and a Dell – no problems.

    Always get rid of history and run Ccleaner before shutting down.

    Reply
  6. What happens when Windows 10 support ends? I install Linux on all my computers and hope for the best. I do not like the Microsoft Account requirements that Windows 10 has already implemented (try installing/using Win 10 without a Microsoft account — it’s very difficult, but not impossible). But Windows 11 makes it *literally impossible* to install Win 11 without a Microsoft Account.

    So, bye bye Windows. I hope SteamOS is stable enough to play all my games by the time I’m forced to give up Win 10 in late 2025. I already use LibreOffice for productivity software, and my Mac for any other work-related stuff, so the only thing I use Windows for is my Plex server and games. As long as I can play games on Linux, I can find Linux alternatives for everything else.

    Reply
    • I just purchased 2 new laptops (ASUS & HP) running Windows 11. I had no trouble creating a local account during setup on both machines. I did the same on both my Win 10 laptops a few years ago. Even though Windows wants you to login using your MS account during setup, you don’t need to do that. There’s an option that says I don’t have Internet access. Click that & you’ll get a dialog for setting up a local account. The other way is to actually set up a Microsoft account login during setup. Afterwards, you can create another user account in the settings menu. The dialog will ask for a MS account login but you can click “I don’t have the account information” & it will let you set up a local account instead. Once the local account is created, be sure to go back & make sure it has administrator status. Then log out of the MS account & login to the new local user account. This will let you go back to user settings & remove the MS account user, leaving you with only the local user account.

      There are several tech articles on how to create a local account in both Win 10 & 11; just do a search for them on the web. If I’m not mistaken, I think Leo did an article on this very topic a while back. You could search AskLeo.com for it. Hope this helps.

      Reply
  7. My notebook with Intel Core i7 5500U, 16GB RAM and SSD 512 GB doesn’t the minimium requirements to run Windows 11. Microsoft is a joke. They want to force an upgrade to run a new version of Windows, these fellas must be ashame. In my desktop, I still use Windows 7, very stable and fast and I will continue to use

    Reply
    • This happens with all technology, not only Microsoft. I have an iPad, only a few years old, that is no longer able to take updates. One by one my apps stopped working because they became incompatible with the older OS. Some people use a car analogy to explain it, and that works.
      I had a 286 laptop in the 80s. It was great. It did everything I needed, and I thought the GUI on a Mac was a gimmick. When 386 computers came out, 286 computers couldn’t run Windows and became obsolete. Should Microsoft have continued to support DOS after Windows became a standalone OS? And the progression continues.

      Reply

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