PHOENIX, Ariz. — Q: Is it true that Microsoft is going to discontinue support for Windows 7 in January of next year?
A: On the heels of all of the disruption that was created with the recent Windows XP end of support deadline, you may hear Microsoft alerts about deadlines a lot more often from now on.
While Jan. 13, 2015, marks the end of free support for all versions of Windows 7, but that’s quite different than what just happened with Windows XP.
Microsoft has three main support end dates on all of its products: mainstream support, extended support and end of support.
Mainstream support is what is offered during the primary life of the product, and includes security updates, non-security hotfixes (a.k.a. bug fixes), no-charge support covered by the software license and feature updates.
When mainstream support ends for a product, it goes into an extended support period (usually 5 years for most versions of Windows), which drops the rest of the offerings and only provides security updates.
For most consumers and small businesses, you really won’t miss anything when mainstream support ends in January, other than possibly having to pay for help from Microsoft should you request it.
The real impact is when Microsoft discontinues all support for a product (end of support). At that point, you no longer get any help or security updates, which can expose you to serious vulnerabilities if you continue to use that product.
Windows 7 “end of support” date is currently set for January 2020, so you won’t have to deal with what just happened with Windows XP until then.
If you’re a Windows Vista user, your end of support date is a little closer — April 2017.
What is more likely to affect consumers and small businesses is the end-of -support dates of other very popular programs, such as Office 2003 and Server 2003.
Windows XP got a lot of attention when the end of support date hit last April, but lost in the hoopla was another very popular program: Office 2003.
If you’re still using this older version of Office, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, you are now on your own when it comes to security.
Most people are aware that Windows needs to be constantly updated to protect against exploits, but not when it comes to keeping Office updated.
For businesses, the end-of-support deadline for Server 2003 is July 14, 2015, but procrastinating in dealing with the complicated and time-consuming process of upgrading to a supported version is not a good idea.
Unlike upgrading Windows on a desktop or laptop, which can be fairly straightforward, upgrading a Windows Server involves a lot of moving parts.
Upgrading hardware and software (and budgeting for it), migrating applications, data, user settings, security policies and a host of other tasks are complicated by the changes that are inevitable in the server platform itself.
As a result, various compatibility or performance issues may need to be worked out, so you should allocate plenty of time for the conversion, so you’re not under the gun because of an impending deadline.