Microsoft surprised many upon its Windows 10 retirement announcement and, in turn, all-but-announcing that a successor is being prepared for release. While one may wonder why anyone would be surprised that a new Windows version is being released, the hang-up for many is that Microsoft repeatedly indicated that Windows 10 would become an OS-as-a-service, meaning that Windows 10 would persist far into the future, being updated via software packages within the OS rather than via new versions. These indications were reinforced as recently as March 2021. As indicated in the link, Microsoft appeared to favor the Windows-as-a-service approach for reasons including deployment, application and device compatibility, and servicing.
However, it seems those indications were incorrect.
Windows 10 Home and Pro will be retired on October 14, 2025. This date is more than four years away as of the writing of this post, and we still don’t know a lot of detail about the new version of Windows. However, it is imperative for businesses and organizations using Windows as the backbone of their PC software to be able to plan, so I’d like to take a moment to examine what the transition into Windows 10 looked like (from Windows 7 or 8).
Disclaimer: We do not have a lot of information at this time as to what the transition into the next version of Windows will be. While the following information is accurate regarding past actions regarding Windows OS, it does not necessarily indicate the approach Microsoft may take in the next transition.
With the disclaimer aside, I’d also like to mention that it is unclear what Microsoft will name the new OS. I will call it “the new Windows version” for the purposes of this post as information regarding naming is not yet public. It’s not safe to assume Microsoft will follow any specific numbering pattern. (Remember Windows 9? I don’t either.) However, Microsoft has hinted that it may be called Windows 11 by posting an 11 minute teaser and having an event suspected to be the official announcement scheduled for 11AM. We’ll have to wait and see.
Business Planning for the New Version of Windows
As PCs progress through their life cycles and replacement is required, almost certainly the new OS will eventually be a standard offering for new PC purchases. Exactly when this will happen is unclear, but in the past has generally been a quick process after official release of the new version. There likely will still be Windows 10 options available as product stock cycles overlap, however, so what will happen to PCs that are still within their life cycle (generally around 4 years) but still have Windows 10 upon its retirement?
One option is that Windows 10 may be eligible for free upgrade. This was the case for many Windows 7 machines for a limited period ending in 2017 (although, oddly, in many cases the free upgrade was possible using the upgrade tools long after the window of eligibility closed). A similar upgrade was available for Windows 8.1 users. (Windows 8 support ended in 2017.)
With both With Windows 7 and 8.1, the software life cycles were lengthened via Extended Support. We expect there will be some type of extended support available for Windows 10, as well. If Windows 10 receives Extended Security Updates (ESU) available in a similar model as Windows 7, this would involve an additional annual purchase per license from Microsoft. While this is not the most cost-effective solution for most, the Windows 7 ESU offers an additional time buffer for companies that use software incompatible with Windows 10. There will likely be similar issues with compatibility, especially concerning discontinued software or software developed by defunct companies, in the transition to the new Windows version. This is one major area that businesses may begin to prepare for the transition: examine applications used—especially vertical-specific or niche software—and determine if any are unlikely candidates for future updates (or will be in the next four years).
Consideration must be given to all aspects of the PC as a whole, but especially to applications and critical device drivers. Outdated software is one root cause of malware susceptibility and cannot be ignored if a business or organization is to maintain sufficient cybersecurity defenses. As well, new OS releases will inevitably have security issues which increase the requirements for safeguards, including zero-trust software policies and multifactor authentication, to cover gaps while critical patches are developed and deployed by Microsoft.
If you need help planning your business or organization’s IT with regards to Windows 10 retirement (or other IT pain points), we have an experienced vCIO team that can assist. CONTACT US here or give us a call!
Microsoft will host an event to make further announcements on this on June 24, 2021. Stay Tuned!