Mainstream support for Microsoft's most widely used version of its Windows operating system -- Windows 7 -- ended Tuesday. But there's no need for Windows 7 users to panic or, if they'd rather not, leap into Windows 8 or 8.1.
That's because Microsoft plans to continue offering extended support for Windows 7 through Jan. 14, 2020, which is still a good five years off. Under extended support, Microsoft will keep providing security updates and online, product-specific information through its Knowledge Base and support site.
What does stop with the end of mainstream support for Windows 7 are any non-security-related updates and most instances of license-related complimentary support. The change also means that Windows 7 users no longer have the option of asking Microsoft for product design and feature changes for the OS.
Windows 8/8.1 Still Lagging
According to the latest figures from the Internet market share-tracking firm Net Applications, Windows 7 -- which was released in October 2009 -- remains the most widely used computer operating system, with 56.26 percent of the overall market share. The most up-to-date version of Windows -- Windows 8.1 -- is used by 9.49 percent of the market, while Windows 8 is used by 4.03 percent.
The radically redesigned Windows 8, which did away with the traditional Start Menu in favor of a more touchscreen-oriented approach, has seen sluggish adoption since it came out in October 2012. The same has held true for Windows 8.1, which was released in October 2013.
In fact, Windows XP, which first came out in 2001, continues to be more popular than either Windows 8 or 8.1. As of this past December, Windows XP was still the OS of choice for 18.26 percent of the computer user market, according to Net Applications.
Windows 10 Gets Preview Soon
The end of support for every OS is a given from the moment it is released. As Microsoft notes on its Windows lifecycle fact sheet, "Every Windows product has a lifecycle. The lifecycle begins when a product is released and ends when it's no longer supported."
Microsoft ended sales of PCs with installed versions of Windows 7 (Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate) late last October, although computers continue to be available with Windows 7 Professional installed. It has also ended retail software sales of Windows 8, leaving most customers with just one OS choice -- Windows 8.1 -- until it rolls out its next, highly anticipated update, Windows 10. (There will be no Windows 9.)
Windows 10, which will bring back the Start Menu familiar to Windows 7 users, is expected to get a sneak preview during a Microsoft event scheduled for Jan. 21. The new OS is likely to hit the market sometime after Microsoft's next Build Developer Conference, set for April 29-May 1.