Windows 7 was released back in 2009. That’s seven years ago, and a lot has changed in the tech world since then. Even so, Windows 7 remains the most popular desktop operating system on the planet. This in spite of Microsoft’s insistence that users upgrade to Windows 10.
It seems that many of you want to keep using Windows 7, and, to be fair, there are all sorts of reasons that might be the case. Maybe a piece of hardware you need won’t work with new operating system, or perhaps you’d rather not go through the upgrade process. Or maybe you tried Windows 10 and didn’t like it.
Whatever your reason, you need to keep your security in mind if you’re sticking with Windows 7. Here are a few tips for anyone who hopes to stick with Microsoft’s most popular operating system.
Know your end-of-support dates
If you’re going to keep using Windows 7, you need to know how long Microsoft will be offering support. The terms used to explain this can be a little confusing, so here’s a quick overview.
- Mainstream support for Windows 7 ended on January 13, 2015. This means that no new Service Packs are coming for Windows 7, and no new features will be added to the operating system. It does not, however, mean that Microsoft is no longer patching the operating system.
- Extended support is still ongoing until January 14, 2020. That’s the date Microsoft will stop issuing new security updates for Windows 7.
This means it’s safe to keep using Windows 7 until 2020, so long as you install all updates. After that point, any and all zero-day exploits will never be patched on your machine, meaning would-be attackers can easily compromise the system using any number of well-documented exploits.
Having said that, your computer will keep working. No one is going to force you to stop using Windows 7. You’ll just be more vulnerable to attackers and cybercriminals.
Update fresh installs after a quick installation
Sometimes installing Windows is the best way to speed up an older computer, but if you’re installing a clean copy of Windows 7, well, expect a laundry list of updates. There hasn’t been a service pack for Windows 7 since 2011, meaning all the updates after that point need to be downloaded, one-at-a-time, through Windows Update.
At least, that was the case until April. Microsoft now offers a convenience rollup for Windows 7 SP1, which includes all Windows 7 updates going through April 2016.
This means that, if you’re installing a fresh copy of Windows 7, you can install all patches relatively quickly. You just need to:
- Download and install Service Pack 1, if your fresh installation doesn’t include it. This will install all Windows 7 patches up to 2011.
- Download the April 2015 Servicing Stack for Windows 7. You need to do this before you can install the rollup.
- Download the convenience rollup for Windows 7 SP1. This will install all Windows 7 patches up to April of 2016.
- Run Windows Update to install all remaining updates.
It’s not exactly straightforward, but compared to waiting for hundreds of individual updates to install, it’s a huge time saver.
Install security updates, without installing Windows 10
Some dedicated Windows 7 users will be hesitant to install updates, and for good reason. More than a few users have, one way or another, ended up with Windows 10 against their will. A lot of digital ink has been spilled as to why, but we’re mostly interested in solutions today. And avoiding Windows Update entirely is not a solution. You need those security updates to keep your personal information secure.
If you’re truly paranoid about accidentally installing Windows 10, check out our guide to avoiding the Windows 10 upgrade. It shows you how GWX Control Panel can stop Windows 10 from showing up in your system tray, or Windows Update, allowing you to keep Microsoft’s latest operating system off your computer.
This won’t be necessary in the long term, however. The nagging upgrade prompts will stop after July 29, 2016, when Windows 10 ceases to be a free upgrade for Windows 7 users.
Stop using Internet Explorer
Internet Explorer 11 is the last version of Microsoft’s long-running default browser for Windows, and remains the only version of Internet Explorer that still receives security updates. Windows 10 users are encouraged to use Microsoft Edge, a brand new browser, instead of Internet Explorer. But Edge is not available for Windows 7.
Microsoft says they will provided security updates for Internet Explorer 11 so long as the operating system it’s running on is still supported. That means that, come 2020, Microsoft will stop offering security updates for Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 7 computers. Using an unsupported operating system is troublesome, but using an unsupported browser is even worse. If you plan on using Windows 7 past its expiration date, consider using a browser besides the default.
Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox are both solid options for Windows 7 users. Of course, there’s no guarantee these browsers will offer Windows 7 support after 2020, but at least you’ll keep getting new features and updates in the meantime.
Add a few Windows 10 features to Windows 7
If you like Windows 7, and don’t plan to switch, you’re probably not interested in the new features offered in Windows 10. But, if you’re curious, there are a few things you can try out without upgrading.
- Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant, isn’t available for Windows 7. Install Google Chrome, however, and you can use a similar feature at Google.com by tapping the microphone icon on the Google Homepage. Ask Google anything, and you’ll get answers.
- Virtual desktops have long been a mainstay on Linux and Mac machines, allowing users to sort windows into separate workspaces. Windows 10 is the first Microsoft operating system to offer this handy feature. If you want something similar on Windows 7, try out DexPot or VirtuaWin, free programs that bring multiple desktops to Windows 7.
- Windows 10 offers an improved command prompt, adding much-needed features like keyboard shortcuts. If you want this and other features on Windows 7, check out ConEmu, a third-party command prompt that offers all sorts of features.