Are you still using Windows 7? Windows Server 2008? Windows XP???
Every software release comes with scheduled dates when “mainstream support” for that product will end. In the case of Windows 7 (SP1), first released in February 2011, mainstream support ended back in January 2015. That means that there have been no new features or function upgrades for Windows 7 since then. This makes sense since it has already been superseded by Windows 8 and Windows 10. Similarly, Windows Server 2008 (SP2) was released in April 2009 and mainstream support ended in January 2015.
If this is news to you and has put you into a minor panic, relax but not too much! “Extended support,” which provides patches and security fixes, continues for several years. In the case of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, also Exchange 2010, extended support ends one year from now on January 14, 2020.
How Much of a Problem is this Really?
The danger of unsupported software became very apparent back in April 2014 when extended support ended for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. Windows XP, first released on August 24, 2001, had been in use for 13 years and many users did not want to stop using it. In fact, according to StatCounter as recently as December 2018, 2.35% of Windows PCs worldwide still use Windows XP today. When you consider how many millions of Windows users there are, that’s still a big number. By the way, yes, .62% amazingly still run Vista…
What’s the Big Deal?
The first and most obvious losses are all the new features and functionalities that are added from one version of software to the next. When Windows Server 2003 finally went end-of-support the then-current Windows Server 2012 had more than forty new categories of improvements. You had to upgrade to get them. This significantly increases the strategic advantage your competitors who have upgraded enjoy over you.
The end of extended support, when security patches and fixes stop coming, is far more significant than the end of mainstream support, which just means that things stop getting better.
Putting a Security Bullseye on Your PC
Unsupported means not maintained, and that’s an invitation to disaster. While patches, fixes, and security improvements stop coming, new threats continue to be developed and released “into the wild.” When a new threat hits your computer and it has no update to protect against it you become a victim. But the exposure doesn’t end there!
Unprotected operating systems are the favorite target of hackers everywhere. They go looking for you. You give them something vulnerable to focus their sights on.
Beyond keeping your data and your PC secure there is the issue of regulatory compliance. You may have been compliant before end-of-support, but now you may no longer be, even though you haven’t changed a thing.
Most regulatory acts require you to “take reasonable steps” to protect your covered data. Using software that is not kept updated with regular security patches is not considered a reasonable step, therefore your now-unprotected software no longer qualifies.
The wide breadth of products, standards, operating systems, applications, protocols and more that need to be managed in the IT environment means that interoperability is paramount in this Internet-of-Things age. When anything is not able to interact with everything else there will be a cost to pay in time, effort, money, and disruption of daily operations. Many applications expect to interact with current versions of everything and can be very inflexible about that. Best practice is to always maintain software currency to avoid these problems.
Beyond that, if something goes wrong with your unsupported software, “who ya gonna call?” Paid support for outdated products is usually obscenely expensive.
Days of Digital Disruption and Transformation
We are living in a time where everyone is working to optimize their digital transformation and its impact on their competitive posture. You can’t have “digital transformation” if you don’t make changes.
But there are signs of a larger danger. The past few decades have seen Amazon redefine retailing, Uber redefine convenient transportation, and the internet redefine everything. Brick-and-Mortar retail stores have had their businesses completely disrupted and changed, as have taxi companies, book and magazine publishers, and so many more.
You have a very clear choice to be the disruptor or be disrupted. Keeping your software updated is only the start of that, but it forms a critical foundation that must be maintained if you are going to achieve sure footing on your path to becoming the innovative disruptor that leverages technology to your own best advantage.
It’s Too Easy to Fall into the Trap
Many users and their companies pay little or no attention to software upgrades and updates. They may not even notice when they stop coming and may ignore all End-of-Support notices as a matter of course. This is shortsighted. The software you use to run your business is every bit as important as the hardware you run it on, yet many who invest wisely in monitoring and managing their network may not even think of managing the software.