Microsoft backtracks on Windows 7 support deadline

Extends support for Windows 7 and 8.1 on Skylake-powered PCs by one year, to July 2018

Microsoft today retreated from an earlier retirement date for Windows 7 and 8.1 support on newer hardware, saying that it would now support those OSes on PCs running Intel's Skylake silicon until July 2018.

The decision is a partial rollback of a January announcement that Microsoft called a "clarification" of its support policy. Under the January plan, Microsoft would have ended support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 on July 17, 2017, if the operating systems were powering machines equipped with its now-current Skylake processor family.

At the time, Microsoft credited the decision to Windows 7's age and the hassle that Microsoft and OEMs would have to go through to ensure the 2009 operating system runs on Intel's latest architecture.

"As partners make customizations to legacy device drivers, services, and firmware settings, customers are likely to see regressions with Windows 7 ongoing servicing," Terry Myerson, Microsoft's top Windows and devices executive, said in a Jan. 15 blog post.

Myerson's solution: Shorten support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 on the newest PCs by at least 30 months, and decree that, going forward, next-generation processors would require the "latest Windows platform at that time for support." In other words, Windows 10.

The move was the first time Microsoft had mandated a broad restriction on what edition of Windows customers could run on which hardware. Some analysts saw it as yet another tactic in Microsoft's strategy to coerce customers into adopting Windows 10.

On Friday, Microsoft backpedaled.

Support for Windows 7 and 8.1 on certain Skylake PCs will now continue until July 17, 2018, a one-year extension from the original deadline. After that date, Microsoft and its computer-making partners will not guarantee that they will revise device drivers to support those editions of Windows on newer hardware.

The Redmond, Wash. company also retreated from another component of the earlier support policy: Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 Skylake PCs will receive all critical security updates through their respective January 2020 and January 2023 retirement dates. Two months ago, Microsoft had been much more vague about what it would patch after the done-with-support date, saying only that it would address "the most critical ... security updates."

The new criteria will almost certainly mean that all vulnerabilities rated "critical," one of the four labels Microsoft assigns to flaws, will be patched.

Support for Windows 7 and 8.1 on Skylake PCs is predicated on the customer owning a system on this list of eligible hardware.

Microsoft acknowledged that its change of mind had been driven by complaints from the firm's most important customers.

"Since [January] we've received feedback from customers at various stages of planning and deployment of Windows 10," wrote Jeremy Korst, general manager of Windows marketing in a Friday post. "Led by their feedback, today we are sharing a few updates to our Skylake support policy."

"They got both direct and indirect feedback on this," said Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. "The feedback from Lenovo, for example, spoke volumes."

Miller was referring to comments a Lenovo executive made last week during a call with partners. As reported by Channelnomics.com, Adrienne Mueller, Lenovo's North America ThinkPad product manager, said Microsoft should back off the 18-month deadline of July 2017.

"The thought here is that Microsoft is really just pushing customers to move to Windows 10," Mueller said. "A lot of reactions from our customers ... is, 'Can we influence Microsoft and tell them they're not ready to transition and try to get them to prolong support on that?' We've tried, and Microsoft's not really willing to do that."

Microsoft is now.

"This is good news," Miller said. "Businesses needed more of a runway to really say, 'Here's our phase-out of Windows 7, and our phase-in of Windows 10.'"

Some parts of Microsoft's revamped Windows 7 and 8.1 support policies did not change today: Microsoft still expects customers to upgrade their Skylake PCs Windows 10 by the new deadline, and the declaration that post-Skylake silicon will support only Windows 10 remained intact.

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