In about 400 days, Windows 7 will get the support guillotine.
Microsoft has set the end of general support - the kind that's free to all, and at this point exclusively patches to quash vulnerabilities - as Jan. 14, 2020. Customers have known that for years, what with Microsoft's once-traditional support policy.
But what happens before that date? Or after?
Computerworld used the year or so prior to Windows XP's retirement - that OS was Windows 7's predecessor as an enterprise linchpin - to assemble definite, likely and possible events on 7's calendar.
Pencil these dates and return here frequently; Computerworld will be updating this timeline as Microsoft makes further proclamations about Windows 7's demise.
Microsoft may reprise a 2013 deal by discounting a combination of Windows 10 Pro and Office 2019 and pitching the offer to small- and medium-sized businesses.
About a year before Windows XP's end-of-support date, Microsoft offered a package deal - Windows 8 Pro and Office 2013 Standard - at a 15% discount. That deal had a cap of 100 licenses for each of the two products.
In a couple of months, Microsoft could repeat the offer with the comparable OS and Office - Windows 10 Pro and Office 2019 Professional - or some other deal, perhaps a discounted Microsoft 365 E3 subscription plan, as an incentive for laggards to move on migration.
April 9, 2019
Windows 7 PCs will not receive security fixes after this date unless they have been modified to accept updates signed with the SHA-2 algorithm.
Microsoft, like other software vendors, digitally "signs" updates before they are distributed via the Internet. SHA-1 (Secure Hash Algorithm 1), which debuted in 1995, was declared insecure a decade later; it was retained for backward-compatibility reasons, including for Windows 7.
But at this late date in 7's life, Microsoft wants to ditch SHA-1 and rely only on the more-secure SHA-2.
Starting with the February 2019 monthly updates, Microsoft will introduce support for the replacement SHA-2 to Windows 7. That support will be included in the March updates as well for those who skipped the month prior.
July 9, 2019
Enterprises using WSUS 3.0 (Windows Server Update Services) SP2 must have added SHA-2 support by this date to continue delivering updates (of any kind, to any Microsoft software) to employees' PCs.
WSUS 3.0 SP2 harks from 2009 and was associated with Windows Server 2008 R2, the server software slated to slide into retirement alongside Windows 7 in January 2020. Since 3.0's introduction, Microsoft has released WSUS 4.0 (with Windows Server 2012) and WSUS 5.0 (Windows Server 2016).
Dec. 14, 2019
Microsoft may start forcing Windows 7 to show users an on-screen nag reminding them of the upcoming Jan. 14, 2020, retirement deadline and urging them to upgrade to Windows 10.
The company did just that with Windows XP, beginning a month before that operating system's last-patch date. If Microsoft repeats this for Windows 7, the message will return to the screen on the 14th of every month thereafter, unless disabled by the user.
Jan. 14, 2020
Microsoft will deliver the final free security update to Windows 7 PCs on this date.
The retirement will presumably be the last of its kind: the demise of a widely-adopted version of Windows, a cornerstone of enterprise computing, after a decade of support. (Microsoft has repeatedly dubbed Windows 10 the "last Windows," since, in theory, it will never really be retired. Instead, its lifecycle will be extended again and again by new feature upgrades. Call it the "Immortal OS" - or the "Undead OS.")
It's very unlikely that Microsoft will renege on the January 2020 end-of-support deadline. There were calls for the company to do that for Windows XP. Microsoft ignored the pleas.
After Jan. 20, 2020
Microsoft will continue to craft security patches for Windows 7 after the operating system's retirement date.
Those fixes will not be offered to the general public or for free to corporate customers. Rather, Microsoft will sell what it calls "Windows 7 Extended Security Updates" (ESU) to businesses running Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Enterprise, and then only if those OSes were obtained via a volume licensing deal.
Microsoft has not disclosed the cost of the ESU but has said the post-retirement patches will be sold in one-year increments for no more than three years, or until early 2023.
April 13, 2021
Microsoft will probably rehash a move it made with Windows XP after Windows 7's public support expires: Continue to provide antivirus (AV) signatures for its home-grown Security Essentials software.
Three months before XP bit the dust, Microsoft announced that it would keep churning out Security Essential signatures for 15 months after the operating system's retirement, or until July 2015.
"To help organisations complete their migrations, Microsoft will continue to provide updates to our anti-malware signatures and engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015," the company said at the time.
That was a reversal from what the firm had said the year before, when it declared signatures would stop at Windows XP's April 2014 end.
Security Essentials, a free consumer-grade AV program that launched in 2008, was replaced by Windows Defender with the launch of Windows 8 in 2012. Since then, Defender has been baked into each succeeding version of the OS, including Windows 10.
If Microsoft retraces the Security Essentials step with Windows 7, it would distribute AV signatures to the operating system until April 13, 2021.
Google will almost certainly produce security updates for Chrome after Microsoft stops servicing the OS. (Millions of machines running the browser could be vulnerable to exploitation otherwise.)
Chrome received updates, including bug patches, on Windows XP until April 2016, or two years after Microsoft quit.
"We know that not everyone can easily switch to a newer operating system," a Chrome director of engineering said in 2015 when Google announced its own XP retirement. Originally, the extension was to run about 21 months; it was later expanded to 24 months.
Google stopped upgrading Chrome on Windows XP when that OS powered approximately 12% of all Windows PCs worldwide.
While it's impossible to know the status of Windows 7 two years after its retirement, current signs indicate that it will be several percentage points higher than XP's. Google will want to wait until Windows 7 accounts for a relatively small portion of the total PC pie before it pulls the plug on Chrome.
In other words, Computerworld feels confident Google will support Chrome on Windows 7 until early 2022, if not later.