I have been warning lawyers that Windows 7 support will end on January 14, 2020 and that it will be dangerous to use a Windows 7 machine to hold client data after that date. The challenge is that  nearly half of the computers in the U.S. are running Windows 7. Another budgetary challenge is that some of those machines don’t have the specs to run Windows 10, so an OS upgrade will not be possible without hardware upgrades and that likely means new computer purchases will be required for those users. But some more recently-purchased Windows 7 computers are upgradable to Windows 10. More on that in a moment.

The news has been bubbling up that there may be life after death for Windows 7 after all –— for a fee. See ZNet: Microsoft to offer paid Windows 7 Extended Security Updates. While this information is accurate, those just reading the headline will get the wrong impression. These Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESUs) will be sold on a per-device basis and will be available to Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Enterprise users with volume-licensing agreements. Do you have a volume-licensing agreement? No, I didn’t think so. Volume licensing is a Microsoft term of art. According to Webopedia, “Microsoft Volume Licensing is a term used by Microsoft to describe a program for organizations that need multiple Microsoft product licenses, but do not need multiple copies of the software media and the documentation that comes with the software.”  Although some large law firms with in-house IT staff undoubtedly do operate under such an agreement.

For most readers, this is an important announcement. You can still use a Windows 7 machine after January 14. But if that computer is connected either to the internet or your law firm network, it is “the weakest link” and puts your client information and business operations at risk. Surely you understand the logic. Microsoft has been publicizing this change for many months. This means no more security upgrades. Those people who look for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in code are still in business and you can bet that if they find a new exploit they are not going to release it in 2019 so Microsoft can diagnose the weakness and repair it. Logic dictates they will wait until mid-January 2020 to unleash their new exploit. How realistic the risk is that this will happen and what damage will potentially occur, I cannot say. But the calculation is easy for me- the potential risk is too great to ignore because the potential loss is so great and the safeguard is so simple.

If your Windows 7 computer is four or five years old, it’s time to buy another one anyway. So just do that soon and migrate all of your data to your new Windows 10 machine. Problem solved. If you are considering upgrading a newer Windows 7 machine, you will first want to visit Microsoft’s page How to Find Windows 10 Computer Specifications & Systems Requirements. The Windows 10 system requirements are not that daunting: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster compatible processor, 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM for 32-bit or 2 RAM GB for 64-bit, 32GB or larger hard disk, a decent graphics card and 800×600 display. (And if you are a lawyer or work in a law firm all day on a 800×600 display, I have a suggestion for that headache you have at the end of the day- get a better monitor!)

Many years of reading about basic system requirements has taught us the lesson repeatedly that you want more computing power that the basics for a good user experience. There are many posts on how to safely upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10, most of them are dated 2015, when this was a free upgrade. 4 Best Ways to Upgrade From Windows 7 to 10 Before 2020 was updated in 2019 and is from MakeUseOf, a usually reliable source. Obviously you would want to make sure you had a good backup before you began this because upgrading an Operating System is a significant undertaking. If this sounds challenging, I’d strongly suggest that calling in professional help to do this for you is the best plan for your firm. This is not to say you cannot do it yourself and I know some who have upgraded successfully.

And if the professional’s quote for the upgrade seems pricey, then look at the price for new computer purchases again because a new computer has many other benefits over upgrading one that you will need to replace soon anyway. Alas Windows 7, we knew you well and you were a fine and reliable OS.