Yes, Microsoft is ending support for Windows 7 from 14th January 2020.
You can still use Windows 7 after this date but your system won't receive any further security updates or patches. For this reason, it's recommended that you upgrade to Windows 10.
Launched in October 2009, Microsoft is pulling the plug on this popular operating system. It is estimated that approximately one third of PC systems out there are still running Windows 7, making it hugely popular. Windows 10 has been available since summer of 2015 and has become rapidly more stable with each feature update making it a solid choice to consider now. Microsoft did end mainstream support for Windows 7 back in 2015 and Windows 7 entered what was known as extended support phase. From 14th January 2020, this phase ends and Windows 7 is officially retired. That does not mean that Windows 7 will simply stop working but you should consider the risks.
If you choose not to upgrade...
Given its popularity, if a large number of users continue to use Windows 7 after its retirement, that makes it an attractive platform for malicious users to target with viruses, malware and other risks. New threats emerge on a frequent basis that can apply to other versions of Windows, such as Windows 8 or Windows 10, and unlike those systems which are still receiving patches and updates, Windows 7 is wide open for attack. Of course, good antivirus software will help. However, this should not be relied upon solely. Slowly but surely, the antivirus providers will begin to move away from supporting Windows 7 as we saw previously when Windows XP was retired.
Web browsers are arguably the most popular software used on computers these days. The resources required to maintain popular browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox are huge. It's likely that both software developers will continue to support Windows 7 for some time but, like the antivirus providers, this support will begin to wane leaving your browser no longer eligible for updates either. Having an up to date browser is essential for avoiding security exploits and protecting personal information (such as e-mail, banking details or online shopping details).
Your upgrade options
The obvious choice is to upgrade to Windows 10.
There were a lot of scare stories about Windows 10 and initially a lot of users were put off from upgrading as a result during the free upgrade offer. However, Microsoft have continued to develop and enhance Windows 10 rapidly since its launch back in 2015. The operating system is now reliable and a good solid choice for considering. Most of your programs and files will continue to work just as expected too, unless you are using something like company-specific tools that might require older versions of Internet Explorer to work. However, for most users, Windows 10 is the recommended route.
Most PCs will be fine to run Windows 10 but you might require a small hardware upgrade, like additional memory or even considering an upgrade to a solid state disk to benefit from the faster speeds that these disks offer. If you really don't want to look at Windows 10, you can always choose to upgrade to Windows 8. However, Windows 10 is far easier and more comfortable to use when coming from Windows 7 as it is better designed for use with a keyboard and mouse. Windows 8 was better optimised for touch devices.
Don't like the Windows 10 Start menu?
I hear this a lot but don't let it put you off.
The Windows 10 Start Menu is pretty straightforward to get used to. However, if you absolutely hate it and do not like the tiles or there's too much information there, consider Classic Shell. This is free program that replaces the Start menu with one that is more similar to Windows 7's Start menu. You can even customise the appearance and options to make it fit your requirements perfectly.
Could it be time for a new PC?
If your system is too old or is not going to be compatible with running Windows 10, then it might be worthwhile considering replacing it with a more up-to-date system. You can always consider an upgrade first to the hardware. I see a lot of laptops that currently use Windows 7 and a simple change like more memory is a cost-effective alternative to replacing the system.
Virtually all laptops on sale that are Windows-based will come with Windows 10 and are designed with this in mind. This means they might well take advantage of new features, such as Windows Hello (face and/or fingerprint recognition), as well as things like disk encryption for security. I would caution against budget laptops with 32 GB of storage space. In reality, 32 GB of storage equates to more like 5-8 GB of actual storage for the user by the time Windows and your programs are installed. Add up your data files, like photos and music and suddenly the disk is full! Windows 10 does update with new features twice per year and these small 32 GB drives just don't have any enough space to cope. That's not Microsoft's fault - it's the manufacturer's offering sub-standard systems that unfortunately catches out unsuspecting customers: so best just avoid these altogether!
Look for systems that include a solid state disk (SSD). You won't regret it! These disks are far faster than traditional hard disks and Windows 10 runs beautifully on them. You will wonder how you ever managed without an SSD in the past once you see the speeds! 128 GB is sufficient for basic use but a 240 GB is probably what I would recommend for most people, or you can consider the larger 512 GB options. If these sizes of drives are not large enough, remember you can consider things like cloud storage, an external hard drive, or some systems will have the capability to add a larger hard disk as well.
There is always Linux...
Ubuntu Desktop Depending on your requirements, you might choose to give Linux a consideration. Linux is a free operating system and there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of variations to choose from (known as distributions). My preferred distribution is Ubuntu but Linux Mint is also a popular choice and very user-friendly for beginners. These operating systems are free to download and install but beware, you will have to be comfortable with tinkering with your system if things do go wrong.
You can choose to replace your entire Windows installation with Linux, or dual-boot alongside Windows 7. This would give you the choice of starting your computer in either Windows or Linux mode. There is a lot of online help and forums out there to get started with Linux. It is not for everyone though and there isn't the same level of support for mainstream programs like Microsoft Office or installing new bits of hardware like printer drivers, etc.
You can always play around with Linux before making any changes to your system simply by downloading and booting from the USB stick without clicking the Install Now option.
Getting further help
If you are not sure what to do, or whether your system may or may not be upgradeable, this is what we do! Get in touch with your local computer repair company and get some professional advice.
A quick 10 minute conversation could save you in the long-run.