Windows 7 is coming to an end. It will reach the end of support on January 14, 2020, alongside Windows Server 2008. It won’t stop running after that, but using it will become increasingly dangerous. Microsoft says there won’t be any security fixes after that. They may issue a patch if a really deadly problem arises, but there’s no guarantee even of that. The good news is that business users can keep running safely beyond that date, thanks to Windows Virtual Desktop.
Criminals know about the upcoming Win 7 EOS and are already getting ready to take advantage of it. Many unsupported Windows 7 systems will be around for years to come. The thieves will search for vulnerabilities and create malware to take advantage of them. Even now, they may be holding off on exploiting weaknesses they’ve discovered. All they have to do is wait until next year, and Microsoft won’t do anything to stop them.
It’s not that Microsoft hates Windows 7 users. It’s a matter of economics. If its engineers are tied up forever maintaining old operating systems, some of its best people aren’t available to make its current systems safer and work on newer versions.
Some people, though, have good reasons for not wanting to upgrade. They have applications which won’t run on Windows 10, and they don’t have a good alternative. Ultimately there’s no escape from Windows 7 end of support, but there’s a way to buy time and even gain some benefits along the way. Users can continue to run their applications on WVD, with continued security upgrades.
What Happens at End of Support
Microsoft eventually drops support for all its old operating systems. Security patches are the last to end. Mainstream support for Windows 7, service pack 1, ended in 2015. That gave users plenty of time to migrate. However, sometimes an OS’s successor isn’t very popular, and people don’t want to move. This happened with Windows 8. It radically changed the user interface, and not to everyone’s satisfaction. People stayed with Windows 7.
The same thing happened before with Windows XP. It was one of Microsoft’s most enduringly popular operating systems. It came to an official end on April 8, 2014. Its successor was the unpopular Vista. Even today, millions of machines run XP. All of them face a security disaster. A large proportion of them are infected with malware. The risk isn’t just to those machines but to the entire network, they run on. An attack on an XP machine wins a gateway to the rest of the network.
Why Users Want to Stay
Windows 7 is enduringly popular. It was only at the end of 2018 that Windows 10 beat it in market share. Some people just don’t like Windows 10 in general. The user interface has changed, and it requires a significant amount of bandwidth to run well. For business users, though, a more pressing concern is applications which will no longer run.
Most software written for Windows 7 should run under Windows 10. The problem is usually with older applications. Technically, they were already obsolete, but they would still run. They should have been retired years ago, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. There may not be a good replacement application. If there is, migrating to it may require data conversion and retraining.
Business customers who don’t want to upgrade and want Windows 7 security updates can get them — for a price. Extended Security Updates are available for at least the next three years. They carry a per-device cost, and Microsoft has said that it will increase every year for as long as they’re available. They’re a “last resort for customers unable to upgrade“.
A Better Way to Get Security Updates
A more cost-effective way to keep running Windows 7 applications is to move to the new Windows Virtual Desktop. It lets users run a complete Windows 7 on the Azure cloud, with security updates included. Alternatively, users can run individual applications under Windows 7 virtualization while using Windows 10 for everything else. All applications can use the same OneDrive volume for files. They can even use the clipboard together, copying and pasting between virtual and local applications.
Security updates are included for free for three years. That should be time enough to find a more permanent solution.
As an extra benefit, users can run the same Windows VM from anywhere. By keeping all their files on OneDrive, they can access their desktop from home or while traveling on business. Meanwhile, old machines that were kept just for running Windows 7 can be eliminated or upgraded to Windows 10.
How to Access Windows Virtual Desktop
To gain access to Windows Virtual Desktop, you need an Azure account through a Microsoft 365 subscription (A3, A5, E3, E5, Business, or F1) or a Windows 10 Enterprise license (A3, A5, E3, or E5). The virtual desktop is included at no extra cost with these licenses, along with Windows 7 Extended Security Updates. You need instances of Azure Active Directory and Windows Server Active Directory for authorization and authentication.
Your local system needs to run Windows 10. It needs the newer operating system to support the virtual desktop, and Windows 7 would still be insecure on a local machine.
Choose an Azure region which is as geographically close as possible. You need to keep network latency to a minimum to get the best performance.
The cost of Windows Virtual Desktop depends on the VM and storage options you choose, as well as the amount of usage.
WVD supports multi-session connections. The best return on cost comes from using high-powered VMs, each of which has multiple users assigned to it, rather than single-user VMs. The amount of power you need depends on what applications you will be running. Legacy applications usually have modest processing and memory requirements, so if you’re using the service just for that purpose, you can get by with a low-end configuration.
If you’re going to keep a virtualized Windows 7 on Azure, it makes sense to get a long-term reserved instance for one or three years. This will save up to 72% compared with pay-as-you-go pricing.
Windows 7 virtualization isn’t a permanent solution. Legacy applications which aren’t supported on modern operating systems need to be replaced. What running Windows 7 under Azure does is buy you time to do that.
On the other hand, you may discover that Windows Virtual Desktop offers advantages that are worth keeping, entirely apart from keeping old configurations alive. Even if you come for the stopgap fix, you may decide to stay for the ability to run a Windows instance from anywhere.
Either way, if you’ve been caught in the middle of a refresh cycle with Windows 7 machines, virtualization could be the right way to go. Agile IT can help you virtualize your Windows 7 machines and get an additional 3 years of enhanced security updates at no extra cost. Contact us to find out more.