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FAQ: Microsoft mandates new Windows support rules

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 21, 2016
New PCs must run -- with some exemptions -- Windows 10, company insists.

For those few consumers who build their own systems, or buy a built-to-order PC from a small shop -- yes, those still exist -- the rules will probably apply if the processor is a sixth-generation Skylake (or later).

(The only way Microsoft could conceivably segregate systems would be by Windows 10 edition: Home, for instance, may be immune to the new rules, but don't count on it.)

How will Microsoft know not to provide full support for, say, Windows 7 on a new Skylake-powered PC after July 2017? Most likely by sniffing out the processor on the device, a task the OS has long done, and continues to do.

Why is Microsoft doing this? The company's stated reason: "Redesigning Windows 7 subsystems to embrace new generations of silicon would introduce churn into the Windows 7 code base, and would break this commitment." By "commitment," Myerson referenced the company's pledge "to deliver security, reliability, and compatibility to our installed base on their current systems."

In English?

Adapting Windows 7 to take advantage of the prominent features in new processors -- in Skylake, for instance, advanced power management -- would be too much work, take too many resources. Ultimately, the company doesn't see the value in backporting new capabilities to an old OS or even maintaining its current skill set that, like Windows 7, is 60% through its support lifecycle.

Okay, what's the real reason Microsoft is changing support? Only Redmond's execs know.

But here are some guesses:

  • Yet another push, gentle or not, to get customers to migrate to Windows 10 sooner rather than later.
  • A quid pro quo with the major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), who were shut out of their usual new-OS bump in shipments and resulting sales when Microsoft offered a free upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft's earlier-than-expected demise of Windows 7 support and the transitional list of privileged PCs, say analysts, will give a boost to OEM sales.
  • A hint at how Microsoft could continue to make money even if Windows 10 is the last version of its OS, a question experts have pondered since the company first breathed the claim. Microsoft could, down the line, announce that the newest silicon will only run Windows 10.x, and push customers to buy new devices to retain support.

Why is Microsoft lumping Windows 8.1 with Windows 7? After all, the former is very much like Windows 10. Good question.

One guess: Microsoft has put the Windows 8 coffin in the ground and tossed a few shovelfuls of dirt atop. It wants to forget the plagued OS ever happened.

How does this affect enterprises? Depends.

Many organizations, both large and small, have traditionally bought new PCs using an annual budget -- it's not feasible to replace all at the same time -- then downgraded the OS that comes on the devices to an older edition to maintain consistency and prevent having to re-train employees on a new operating system.


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