Microsoft will end support for Windows 7 on January 14, 2020. This means that after that date they will no longer issue security and feature updates nor will they provide support. While it may seem that there is plenty of time to worry about this, if you’re using a PC that is running Windows 7, doing some planning and preparation now will help make the transition smoother.
What Is Happening?
Microsoft only provides support and updates for their products for a fixed period of time, after which they deem the product end of life. When a product reaches end of life it no longer receives any support or updates, most notably, security patches. Microsoft will begin alerting Windows 7 users in April, so you may start to see pop-ups.
What Is Not Happening?
End of life status does not mean that Windows 7 will stop working on January 14, 2020. Your PC will continue to work just as it has. However, as noted above, it does mean that there will be no more updates, so problems such as security issues that come up will not be addressed any longer. This puts you at increased risk.
You Need A Plan
Even though your PC will continue to work after support ends, you should not simply ignore this event and carry on using Windows 7. Once security updates stop, your PC will become less and less secure for two main reasons:
- Security issues are found all the time. As more of these go un-fixed over time, the ways that your PC can be compromised by a hacker obviously increases.
- Hackers know that Windows 7 is still popular and is nearing end of life. They often increase focus on operating systems at this stage knowing vulnerabilities will not be fixed.
I strongly urge anyone that is using a PC running Windows 7 to start thinking about their plan to move forward. Continuing to use Windows 7 after support ends should not be on your list of options.
Below I cover several options to consider, some things to do in order to prepare for the change, and some specific things to do when moving. To jump to any section, tap or click below:
You have several options to consider when moving away from Windows 7. Below I discuss several and offer some pros and cons. In the end, there is no right answer as it largely depends on your computing needs going forward. The options I discuss below are (click on each to jump to that section):
- Upgrade your current PC to Windows 10
- Purchase a new PC with Windows 10
- Switch to a Mac
- Switch to an iPad
There are, of course, other options I don’t discuss, such as switching to a Chromebook, Android tablet, Linux, etc. The options I cover here are, in my opinion, the best.
Upgrade to Windows 10
If your current PC is only a couple years old then you may be able to upgrade it to Windows 10, which is Microsoft’s latest operating system. If your PC fully supports Windows 10, this is the easiest and most cost-effective solution.
Unfortunately Microsoft doesn’t make it easy to know if your Windows 7 PC will work well with Windows 10. They list the requirements for Windows 10 here, however these specifications are not detailed enough to really know whether all your PC’s components will work properly. This includes things like audio, networking, CD/DVD drives, and cameras. The Windows 10 upgrade app might tell you about issues with hardware and/or software on your system, but you will have already paid Microsoft the price of the upgrade before finding out.
If your PC is less than 3 years old and you are happy with it, then an upgrade may be a good choice if you can find information from the manufacturer indicating support for Windows 10.
On the other hand, if your PC is more than 3 years old, then I advise against doing an upgrade. There are just too many variables to know for sure that Windows 10 will work well.
If you are interested in upgrading, you can find information about Windows 10 along with a link to purchase the upgrade at Microsoft’s site here.
In most cases, if you want to stick with Windows hardware and software, your best choice is to purchase a new PC. New PCs will come with Windows 10 and there are many options that will satisfy almost any price and feature needs.
While Windows 10 has many similarities to Windows 7, there are also differences. You will need to allow yourself some time to learn about and get used to the new operating system. Some features will be in different places, or no longer included.
Most people that want to continue using Windows should buy a new PC. You’ll get a fully-supported PC that you know was made and tested for Windows 10.
When buying a new PC, I recommend purchasing directly from Microsoft. Not only do they provide good support but they don’t install as many extras as many companies do. These extras are often there to get you sign up for a service or pay for extra software that you don’t necessarily need. They clutter up the PC and pester you with pop-ups asking you to buy. To shop online, go here, and to find a Microsoft Store near you, click here.
Switch to Mac
If you are considering a new PC, another option is switching to a Mac. This is often, but not always, a more expensive option than a new PC, but in my opinion there are several benefits.
With the Mac, the hardware and software are built & tested together by the same company, so you get a much more consistent and stable experience over time. And, if there ever is an issue, you have a single company to work with to resolve it.
Another benefit is that if you use an iPhone or iPad, many of the Apple apps and services you use on those devices are available on the Mac. Apps like Notes, Reminders, Photos, and Messages, as well as saved passwords, are all available on the Mac. This makes it very easy to move back and forth between your devices and have all your important data available everywhere.
There will be a learning curve when switching to a Mac. Overall the concepts and usage are very similar to Windows, but there are some differences to learn. Also, the Mac is generally more expensive, though many consider the price premium worth it.
Another possible issue is that the software you use may not be available for the Mac. While many major software packages, such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite are available, there are also some that are not. You will need to check to make sure any software you need is available.
The Mac is an excellent option with an easy-to-use, consistent experience and a very stable system. If you’re looking for a well-made system that will integrate easily with your other Apple products and last a long time, a Mac is a good choice.
On the other hand, if the price is too high, if there is software you need that isn’t available, or you don’t want to change to a different system, staying with Windows is right for you.
If you think a Mac might be a good choice, you can explore your options at Apple’s site here.
Switch to iPad
You may be surprised to see this listed as an option, but Apple’s iPad has become a powerful device capable of doing many, if not all, of the things people do with their PCs. Adding a keyboard to an iPad gives you the feel of a traditional laptop along with all the benefits of the iPad.
The iPad is a much simpler device to use and maintain than a traditional laptop (both PC and Mac). There is just less fiddling to keep the iPad running well since apps cannot interfere with the system and updates and backups are handled automatically.
The iPad is also more secure than a traditional laptop. Due to the way apps work and how the App Store screens apps, viruses and malware are very, very rare.
With all-day battery life, the iPad is very easy to travel with, and is quite versatile, becoming a movie player, sketch pad, camera, document scanner, book reader, and much more using one of the more than one million apps that are available.
While using an iPad is very similar to using your iPhone, doing certain tasks on an iPad that you typically perform on a PC can be quite different. For example, tasks that require a lot of mouse use will be different on an iPad, and will likely feel awkward at first. There are also some things that are just not well-suited to the iPad, such as software development, tasks that require several windows, or the use of a multiple displays.
While there are more than a million apps available for the iPad, including a version of Microsoft Office, there might be software that you use on your PC that isn’t available. And, if you use accessories plugged into your PC, such as external hard drives, musical instruments, monitors, speakers, etc., these may not work with an iPad.
If you mostly use email, social media, messaging, and web browsing, then an iPad can be a great choice. It can also handle many other PC-type tasks if you’re willing to learn new ways to do them. For example, it’s been a great change for me — I haven’t used my Mac in several months and do everything on my iPad, including creating, writing, editing, and publishing this web site.
On the other hand, if you’re more comfortable with a traditional computer and have no desire to spend time learning new ways to accomplish what you already know how to do using your PC, then sticking with a PC is the best choice for you.
For more information on iPad, check out Apple’s site here.
No matter which route you take to move from Windows 7, there are several things you should do to prepare. I suggest you create a New Computer document, whether paper-based or electronic, to keep track of the information you’ll need and tasks you need to perform. I’ll highlight information you’ll want to add to it as I cover topics below. You can download a sample of such a document here.
You will want to make sure you have a backup of your current PC. Even if you’re getting a new device, having a backup is important so that if anything goes wrong while moving information between devices, you’ll be covered.
If you regularly back up your PC, then you’re all set. If not, you’ll need an external USB hard drive or a USB memory stick. You can find these on Amazon.com or at Best Buy and they are relatively inexpensive. Once you have that, see this article from Microsoft for specifics about backing up your PC and files:
Add a task to your New Computer document to back up your PC before starting the process to move.
Having a list of the accounts you use on your PC will make it easy to ensure you get them all set up on your new device from the start. You will need the user name and password for each account, so make sure you know where those are (if you followed my advice on passwords, then you should have easy access to them). Common accounts that you might need are:
- Microsoft account
- Apple account (iCloud, iTunes)
- Email accounts (list each separately)
- Cloud storage (Dropbox, etc.)
- Music (Spotify, Pandora, etc.)
Add a section to your New Computer document for your accounts.
You will need to install most of the applications you use on your new device. Look through the Start menu on your Windows 7 PC and note which applications you use and will want to install. Having a list makes it simple to check off each app as you install it.
Add these to your New Computer document.
Note: some software applications require activation codes or some other means to prove that you purchased them. You may need these when installing the applications on your new device.
Documents and Files
It’s important that you identify all the documents and other files that you want to have on your new device. You will need to copy these to your new device unless they are stored in a cloud provider, such as Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, or similar service.
Most, if not all, of the files you have saved on your PC are in well-defined places and are easy to locate. Windows 7 uses the following standard locations for your files:
If you’ve created your own folders in locations other than one of these, you’ll want to make note of that as well so you don’t forget to get those files.
Add a section for Files to your New Computer document and add these locations there.
Email, Calendar, Contacts
In many cases, your email, calendar, and contacts are stored in the cloud and will be accessible from your new device after you set up your account. However, if you have these stored only on your PC, then you will need to move them manually.
I suggest using a cloud account for your email, contacts, and calendar going forward. Having these items stored in the cloud not only makes moving to a new device easy, but it also means your data is backed up and available on all your devices. Some services that make this easy are Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s Outlook.com, or Google’s Gmail.
If your email, calendar, and contacts are not stored in the cloud, then add them to your New Computer document.
If you save your favorite Internet links in your web browser, you will want to move these to your new device. Some web browsers store these in the cloud for you so they will be available on your new device when you log into your account. If your browser doesn’t do this, or you’re not sure, add Internet Favorites to your New Computer document.
Here are a few other things to do to make sure you’re ready for your move.
- Printer & Scanner: Search online to make sure your printer and/or scanner are compatible with your new device.
- Monitor: If you use a separate monitor, verify that the video connection port on your monitor is available on your new device. There are various types of connections that may be on each device, such as HDMI, Display Port, Thunderbolt, DVI, or VGA. You may need to purchase an adapter.
- Other Devices: If you use any other devices, such as cameras, musical instruments, etc., search the manufacturer web sites to ensure they are compatible with your new device.
If any of these devices need new software for your new device, make a note of it in your New Computer document so you remember to download it when needed.
You should now have a pretty complete list of information to help you set up your new device. When you are ready to start, have your list handy, come back to this article and continue reading below.
Once you’ve made a decision about how you will move off of Windows 7 and purchased the upgrade or a new device, you will need to set aside some time to make the switch. I cover some specific scenarios you might run into and provide some useful links below.
Upgrade to Windows 10
As I mention above, I don’t recommend upgrading your Windows 7 PC to Windows 10 unless your PC is fairly new, but if you’re going this route, then you can find information about purchasing the upgrade here. Once you start the upgrade, it will walk you through the steps needed to install and get up and running.
Once the upgrade is complete, your applications and files should still be on your PC where you left them. I suggest going through your New Computer document to ensure all your applications and files are still where they should be.
Make sure you have a backup of your PC before starting the upgrade!
If you’ve purchased a new PC the process is pretty straightforward. Microsoft provides good guidance here. Follow their steps to make sure you get your new PC set up with all your apps and files. As you go through the steps, check off the items in your New Computer document so you know that you’ve got everything taken care of. You can also find more general information about leaving Windows 7 here.
As I noted above in the Preparing section, depending on your email configuration, you may need to take extra steps to move your email to your new PC.
If you know that all your email is stored on your email server (in the cloud), or you use a web browser to access your email at sites such as outlook.com, hotmail.com, gmail.com, or similar, then you don’t need to do any extra work. You’ll access your email the same way on your new PC.
However, if you have emails stored only on your Windows 7 PC you will need to either move them to the cloud or export them to a file and then import them on your new PC.
Unfortunately the Windows 10 Mail app does not support importing messages, and the Windows Mail or Windows Live Mail apps from Windows 7 are no longer available. If you want to continue to keep emails only on your PC, you will need to use a different email program. Some versions of Microsoft Office include Outlook, which is a good email application and supports importing your emails and storing them on your PC. Another option is to find an email app in Microsoft’s App Store that supports this.
iCloud for Windows
If you use Apple’s iCloud services for your photos, files, or other information, you can install Apple’s iCloud For Windows app on your new PC. This will allow you to access your iCloud data easily from Windows. To learn more, click here, and to download the app click here.
If you’ve decided to move to a Mac, Apple provides a Migration Assistant that will move your accounts, documents, music, pictures, email, and more from your Windows 7 PC to your Mac. Once you set up your new Mac, the Migration Assistant will automatically start. You can find more information about how to use it here.
Once your Mac is up and running, go through your New Computer document to ensure you’ve got everything you need. The Mac comes with apps installed for mail, calendar, contacts, notes, reminders, photos, and iTunes. You can use the Mac App Store to install other applications you need such as Microsoft Office.
If you’ve decided to move to an iPad, you’ll need to set up your accounts in the Settings app and install the apps that you need from the App Store. If you store all your files in the cloud, then the apps for those services will allow you to access the files.
You can use iTunes on your Windows 7 PC to transfer music, photos, and other data to your iPad, though using cloud services for this is much easier. If you want to use iTunes, click here for an article about syncing content, and click here to learn about syncing files.
Go through your New Computer document and make sure you have your accounts added and apps installed as well as the files and data you need.
This article may seem a bit early given that there are several months before Microsoft stops providing updates for Windows 7. However, I think it’s better to start planning soon and make your move with plenty of time to spare. This gives you the time to investigate your options, buy a new device, make the change, handle any issues that come up, and get comfortable with your new system before the deadline. I don’t know about you, but I hate waiting until the last minute to do these sorts of things.
Once you have your new device set up, I recommend keeping your Windows 7 PC around for a while so that if there is anything you forgot you can easily get to it. But, don’t use both devices for your day-to-day computing needs, as it will become difficult to keep track of which device has the most recent files, emails, etc. Just use the new one.
I’ve tried to give a fairly comprehensive view into your options to move away from Windows 7 and how to go about it. However, there are many things I did not delve into or only covered at a high level. If you have specific questions or issues, let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to help.
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