How long should we support old Windows versions?

Mike Halsey MVP
Jun 11, 2011
Updated • Dec 4, 2012

Apple this week announced their new iCloud service, bringing together MobileMe and iTunes in the cloud. With it though they also announced they were dropping support for Windows XP from the new product. Indeed they were only supporting their own desktop operating system, OS X, going back four years to 10.5 'Leopard' too. This raises an interesting question, just how long should we support older operating systems, and especially Microsoft Windows?

I'm singling Microsoft out in this article because the other major desktop operating systems don't seem to suffer from this problem. Apple have a clear policy of only supporting older versions of OS X for so long and, because these (so far at least) haven't been susceptible to malware in the way Windows has, there has been very little in the way of support that Apple has had to offer.

GNU/Linux, especially Ubuntu the most common name in Linux, changes so regularly that there's no need to support older versions at all and indeed legacy support almost never happens. Each new version will run happily on the hardware of an older version so people are simply encouraged to upgrade for free.

So where does this leave Microsoft? This company has a bigger problem. Not only is it the market leader with millions more computers around the world running its operating systems, it also faces two other major problems. The first of these is big business, Microsoft's largest customer group, who traditionally leave it at least a year or two after a new version of Windows is released to upgrade and many of whom are still using Windows XP today, despite Windows 7 having more than proven itself in terms of reliability, security and performance.

Businesses don't like upgrading very often. They tend to approach these things in an "if it's not broken, don't fix it" manner because they have all types of bespoke desktop software and intranet services that still require the devil's browser, Internet Explorer 6 to work, and it's expensive and time-consuming to bring these up to date. In short, they'd all rather not bother.

Microsoft introduced XP Mode, a fully licenced copy of XP running in a virtual machine for Windows 7, to address this problem but it doesn't seem to have helped. Businesses just won't shift in great-enough numbers.

Then we have the developing market for whom computers are an expensive luxury and where running Windows 7 is just something the old 386, 486 and Pentium computers they're still using won't run it, at least not well. Many of these people are stuck on XP both because of performance and price. These people simply can't afford to upgrade despite Microsoft long ago having made available a special version of Windows just for them.

The official policy of Microsoft for product support is that...

Microsoft will offer a minimum of 10 years of support for Business and Developer products. Mainstream Support for Business and Developer products will be provided for 5 years or for 2 years after the successor product (N+1) is released, whichever is longer. Microsoft will also provide Extended Support for the 5 years following Mainstream support or for 2 years after the second successor product (N+2) is released, whichever is longer.

This puts Windows XP support ending on April 8th 2014, a massive 13 years after it first went on sale and Windows Vista on April 11th 2017. Many people argue this is simply far too long.

So why is it too long and what are the reasons for forcing people to upgrade sooner? Apple seem to have the right idea on cost. It's just too expensive to maintain support for these older operating systems. Microsoft could too save money by cutting support for XP earlier and they'd have some increased revenue for those people who are forced to upgrade (business customers on their Software Assurance programme will have already paid for Windows 7 depsite not using it).

It would be better for the man on the street too, knowing that his operating system would be more secure because he simply wouldn't be using XP... or would it?

The question remains that if Microsoft pulled all support for XP would people actually stop using it? There would certainly be a proportion of people who would upgrade but a great many more, for whom XP is also as comfortable as an old shoe, wouldn't even necessarily know that support had ended and would carry on using it anyway.

This scenario could create a security nightmare for the world with not only these individuals having their PCs being targeted by virus and malware writers, but also with the huge potential for these machines to be hijacked by botnets to attack larger targets.

It could also be argued that Windows versions would be much cheaper, maybe even approaching OS X levels of pricing ($90 over three years), if many years of additional support staffing didn't have to be factored into the overall cost.

We can't say though that we, as a consequence of this being a possibility, all have a responsibility to continue to support XP. Education is needed here for consumers, direct intervention in the form of financial help is needed for the developing world and big business needs a firm kick up the backside. It was big business who forced an extension of the support life for XP after all, and these people have a lot to answer for.

So should Microsoft drop support for a product that's older than four years in the way Apple do? The answer in my mind is a definitive yes, but with the pressures Microsoft are under we can probably still expect to see computers running Windows XP for many years to come.


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  1. Dan Donx said on January 15, 2023 at 10:29 am

    What mental age of reader are you targeting with the first sentence? 10?

    Why not write an article on how to *avoid* upgrading from W10 to W11. Analogous to those like me who avoided upgrading from 7 to 10 for as long as possible.

    If your paymaster Microsoft permits it, of course.

  2. Dexter said on January 15, 2023 at 11:14 am

    5. Rufus
    6. Ventoy

    PS. I hate reading these “SEO optimized” articles.

    1. cdr said on January 15, 2023 at 3:32 pm

      I used Rufus to create an installer for a 6th gen intel i5 that had MBR. It upgraded using Setup. No issues except for Win 11 always prompting me to replace my local account. Still using Win 10 Pro on all my other PCs to avoid the bullying.

  3. sv said on January 15, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    bit pointless to upgrade for the sake of upgrading as you never know when you’ll get locked out because ms might suddenly not provide updates to unsupported systems.

    ps…. time travelling?
    written. Jan 15, 2023
    Updated • Jan 13, 2023

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 16, 2023 at 5:49 am

      This happens when you schedule a post in WordPress and update it before setting the publication date.

  4. Anonymous said on January 16, 2023 at 8:24 am

    Anyone willing to downgrade to this awful OS must like inflicting themselves with harm.

  5. basingstoke said on January 16, 2023 at 11:18 am

    I have become convinced now that anybody who has no qualms with using Windows 11/10 must fit into one of the following brackets:

    1) Too young to remember a time before W10 and W11 (doesn’t know better)

    2) Wants to play the latest games on their PC above anything else (or deeply needs some software which already dropped W7 support)

    3) Doesn’t know too much about how computers work, worried that they’d be absolutely lost and in trouble without the “”latest security””

    4) Microsoft apologist that tries to justify that the latest “features” and “changes” are actually a good thing, that improve Windows

    5) Uses their computer to do a bare minimum of like 3 different things, browse web, check emails, etc, so really doesn’t fuss

    Obviously that doesn’t cover everyone, there’s also the category that:

    6) Actually liked W7 more than 10, and held out as long as possible before switching, begrudgingly uses 10 now

    Have I missed any group off this list?

    1. Heinz Strunk said on September 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

      You have missed in this group just about any professional user that uses business software like CAD programs or ERP Programs which are 99% of all professional users from this list.

      Linux doesn’t help anyone who is not a linux kid and apple is just a fancy facebook machine.

  6. ilev said on August 24, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    Microsoft has removed KB5029351 update

    1. EP said on August 24, 2023 at 9:21 pm

      only from windows update though
      KB5029351 is still available from the ms update catalog site

  7. Anonymous said on August 24, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    1. This update is labaled as PREVIEW if it causes issues to unintelligent people, then they shouldn’t have allowed Preview updates ot install.

    2. I have installed it in a 11 years old computer, and no problems at all.

    3. Making a big drama over a bluescreen for an updated labeled as preview is ridiculous.

    This is probably another BS internet drama where people ran programs and scripts that modified the registry until they broke Windows, just for removing stuff that they weren’t even using just for the sake of it.
    Maybe people should stop playing geeks and actually either use Windows 10 or Windows 11, but don’t try to modify things just for the sake of it.

    Sometimes removing or stopping things (like defender is a perfect example) only need intelligence, not scripts or 3rd party programs that might mess with windows.

  8. john said on August 24, 2023 at 11:17 pm

    Windows 11 was a pointless release, it was just created because some of the Windows team wanted to boost sales with some sort of new and improved Windows 10. Instead, Microsoft cannot support one version well let alone two.

    1. John G. said on August 25, 2023 at 12:08 pm

      Windows 11 is the worst ugly shame by Microsoft ever. They should release with every new W11 version a complete free version of Starallback inside just to make this sh** OS functionally again.

  9. EP said on August 25, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released a statement regarding the “unsupported processor” blue screen error for their boards using Intel 600/700 series chipsets & to avoid the KB5029351 Win11 update:–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–Error-Message-of-Windows-11-Update-KB5029351-Preview-142215

  10. EP said on August 29, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    check out the following recent articles:

    Neowin – Microsoft puts little blame on its Windows update after UNSUPPORTED PROCESSOR BSOD bug:

    BleepingComputer – Microsoft blames ‘unsupported processor’ blue screens on OEM vendors:

  11. Leonard Britvolli said on August 30, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    While there may be changes or updates to the Windows 10 Store for Business and Education in the future, it is premature to conclude that it will be discontinued based solely on rumors.

  12. sembrador said on September 5, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    My advice, I left win 15 years ago. Now I’m a happy linux user (linuxmint) but there is Centos, Fedora, Ubuntu depending on your needs.

  13. EP said on September 6, 2023 at 11:55 am

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released new BIOS/firmware updates for their Intel 600 & 700 series motherboards to fix the “UNSUPPORTED_PROCESSOR” problem (Sept. 6):–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–caused-BSOD-on-MSI-s-Intel-700-and-600-Series-Motherboards-142277

  14. Raphael Benzo said on September 24, 2023 at 9:52 pm

    I try to disable the Diagnostics Tracking Service (Connected Devices Platform User Services) but it wont let me disable it, any help will be greatly appreciated.
    Tank you for your help

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