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Productivity / Professional development

Time is running out on Windows 7!

On January 14, Microsoft stops issuing security updates for Windows 7. So what should Freelancers with a Windows 7 system do?

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In what’s really just a matter of weeks, Microsoft will officially end all support for Windows 7. There will be no more security updates to fix vulnerabilities as they emerge.

That’s quite a thing, because if the Statcounter data is correct, about 1 in 10 Australians still use Windows 7. If you’re one of them, you have until January 14 to sort this out.

Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow

Windows 7 was the last “traditional” Windows, offering a simple, familiar interface and a generally uncomplicated experience.

Everything went pear shaped with Windows 8. Microsoft saw the booming popularity of iPads and Galaxy Tab and cooked up something like the illegitimate child of traditional Windows and a touch screen device. Instead of making Windows as simple to use as a tablet, it was extremely confusing.

Windows 10 fixed these problems a little, but it’s still a sprawling, inconsistent monstrosity in which many users struggle to find anything.

Then there are all the software compatibility concerns – both real and perceived – that make users reluctant to switch. In truth, all the big name packages like Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud were updated for Windows 10 a long time ago.

Where compatibility is with a whole universe of niche and specialised applications out there that businesses rely on every day for everything from mailouts to point of sale systems to big machinery like CNC routers.

Then there’s Windows 10’s forced updates, which can ambush you and take your computer away from you at the least convenient moment, sometimes destroying your unsaved work and usually changing all your settings.

But, for all that there have been good reasons to stick with Windows 7, it’s time is now ending. So what do you do about it?

Option 1: Buy a New Computer

Windows 7 was released all the way back in 2009, and Windows 8 computers became available in 2012. By 2014, computers with the Windows 7 Home edition pre-installed were completely off the market. Pre-installed Professional editions officially ended in 2016, but they were gone from the shops well before then.

So your Windows 7 computer is probably half a decade old already. That’s about as long as consumer grade computer parts are reliably built to last.

This is especially a problem if you use laptops. It’s relatively easy to replace broken parts in a desktop, but in a laptop it’s usually less expensive to replace the whole thing.

But even with a desktop, after you replace the motherboard, hard drive or fan in a brand new desktop, the rest of it is still as old as the part that just broke.

It’s not so bad to use a gaming or media centre computer until it breaks. You just have to find something else to do until you get around to fixing it or replacing it.

But because this is a work machine, unplanned hardware failures disrupt your earnings. Lost work time will usually be your biggest expense of a broken computer.

So have a think about what you bill per hour, and what the time spent scrambling to fix or replace broken hardware in the middle of a busy project is really worth to you.

Option 2: Upgrade Your Existing Machine to Windows 10

If a new machine is not on the cards, then what about upgrading?

Until 2016, Microsoft were offering free upgrades from Windows 7 and 8 to Windows 10. They now advertise that this offer has closed and that you’ll need to pay to upgrade. Weirdly, though, if you try to use the free upgrade tool, it still seems to work.

But before you dive in head first, have a think about your system specs. As I discussed before, the fact that you’re on still on Windows 7 means your machine is probably not all that new.

Microsoft reckons that the 64-bit version of Windows 10 will run on 2 gigabytes of memory and a 1Ghz processor, but this is a sick joke.

If you have better things to do with your time than sit there staring at your machine, waiting for it to respond, you really want 8 gigabytes of RAM and a dual core processor that runs at 2Ghz or more. A solid state drive is nice too.

Desktop computers are easy to upgrade, but what about laptops? Many of them have expansion slots for more RAM, and if yours is one of them, that’s is a cheap and easy upgrade. It’s also usually easy to swap the hard drive, but upgrading the CPU on a laptop is usually difficult or impossible.

The other thing to consider here is whether you want to be throwing this money at an old machine that could break in the near future.

 

Option 3: Switch to Linux

For the longest time, Linux was really just for hardcore tech heads. But in the last couple of years, the user experience has improved to the point where it’s a real option for getting actual work done.

It runs fast on older hardware. Check out this comparison of Windows 10 and Linux Mint 19. If you’re trying to make your modest machine work past retirement age, it will do things much faster on Linux.

It’s mostly nicer to use. Linux offers a bunch of different desktop environments to choose from – and these days, of them offer a cleaner, simpler, more visually consistent and easier user experience than Windows 10.

Your computer becomes more similar to the rest of the internet. This probably only matters if you’re in digital media, web development or other internet related role – which would still be a few of you. When you do your work on Linux, you’re creating things in an environment quite similar to the servers that will be hosting it. That’s just less you have to think about.

It’s begun to matter less and less what operating system you use. In the past decade, so much business productivity has shifted to cloud services. More and more businesses do everything using web applications that run in the browser.

Sounds good right? So what’s the down side?

There’s so many distributions. Linux is an open source system that lets anyone modify it. Literally anyone is allowed to put together their own version of Linux, which led us to more options than I’ve really the time or interest to count. – none of which really mean anything to anyone in the beginning. This makes Linux seem very confusing. Where do you even start?

In truth, a lot of these distributions are intended for server environments or for specialised purposes. Others are just little hobby projects put together by people who just wanted to see if they could put together their own operating system. When it comes to the, they tend to be more similar than different.

Installation headaches. Installing Linux can mean all sorts of little headaches with bootloaders, hardware drivers and so on. A lot of these are actually quite easy to sort out once you’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve – but if you’re switching from Windows 7, you probably haven’t.

Software compatibility. If you do all your work using web applications that run in your browser, you’re laughing! For everyone else, this is the big one. Do you rely on Microsoft Office? How about Adobe Creative Cloud? It’s often possible to get these programs working on Linux – but because they’re not officially supported, it can be a headache and it can break with updates.

There might be alternative programs that you could use instead – LibreOffice works absolutely fine as an alternative. 

If you are thinking of giving Linux a go, it’s best to test it out first using a live boot USB. This is where you copy the operating system to a USB stick that you can boot from without needing to install it first. That way you can see how well it runs on your machine and just get an initial feel for whether you like it.

It’s up to you which one you want to try, but Zorin OS, Pop! OS and Linux Mint are all good starting points.

Option 4: Are You Eligible for Paid Extended Support?

Microsoft are providing some customers an option to pay for up to 3 years more support. Unfortunately, it’s not even available to the average freelancer.

To be eligible, you need to own either Professional or Enterprise editions of Windows 7 purchased on a volume licensing deal.

Option 5: Disconnect from the Internet Completely

And I mean physically. Unplug the ethernet cable or switch off the wireless adapter, and use a USB stick to move files on and off, like we all did with floppy disks in 1991.

That might leave you use your phone or your tablet for web browsing and email, or you can use a different computer.

This drastically reduces the usefulness of your computer, but it also drastically reduce your exposure to evolving security threats.

If you have some old application, this might be your best way to keep it running. (There’s also the option of running it in a virtual machine, but that a whole other topic.)

Option 6: Ignore the Problem

It’s not an untested theory what happens here – the two most damaging ransomware attacks of all time both targeted a vulnerability that Microsoft had already patched.

Many of these computers were unpatched because they were running Windows XP, which Microsoft stopped supporting in 2014.

It’s only a matter of time before scammers and vandals start hitting Windows 7 in the same way.

Make use of the summer slow down

    1. The good news is that, with the Christmas rush out of the way, you’ve still got 3 weeks to sort this out – and for many freelancers, these are the quietest 3 weeks of the year.
    2. Make sure you’ve moved on from Windows 7 by January 14.

Grant Hamono

is DXM Tech Support's head support technician. In his 17 year career he has kept schools and businesses of all sizes running smoothly. Grant has extensive knowledge of server and desktop platforms, and of network infrastructure planning, development and maintenance. It's the right stuff to keep your business running.

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