As technology relentlessly marches on, hardware engineers toil away at faster, more efficient processing capabilities, and software developers work hard in creating the next generation of operating systems (OSes) and software for end users to make use of. Two decades ago, an OS like Windows might see a new major iteration every five to six years or so. Major productivity software like Microsoft Office might receive a new release every three to four years. In those days, updating your software wasn’t always necessary, if you didn’t need new features or support for new technologies.
The spread of the internet has changed all that. For one, it has made delivery of updates and fixes both easier and faster. Windows now receives weekly updates and monthly cumulative patches, as well as a new major “feature update” every six months. Chrome OS gets major updates every two weeks. MacOS (previously known as OSX) receives a major upgrade every year.
For two, it has made receiving updates a much more important fact of life: the increased connectivity we crave also exposes us all to enormous risk, from the possibility of hackers, scammers, malware, and viruses. Microsoft doesn’t just push out Windows updates to change things around on you, but they’re also working hard behind the scenes to make sure your computer system is as secure as possible from threats both within and without.
Many of our customers, when we tell them that their current OS or software has reached “end-of-life” or is “out of support” and that they need to upgrade, have many questions – the major two being “why does support end?” and “why should I upgrade, if this doesn’t offer me anything I think I need? We’re going to try to explain both of these here in a simple way.
Change Is Inevitable
One fact we have to face is that innovators will never stop innovating. Hardware will always continue to improve, and it follows that software developers will never stop developing: there will always be a new version (or an outright replacement) for whatever it is you’re using now, at some point in the future. Whether you personally want it or not, these new things will happen. As a result, the companies that produce these products have to provide support for them. This support comes not only in the form of technical support, but in the form of security updates/repairs, bugfixes, and threat mitigation.
These companies can’t support products forever. Paying software engineers and tech support specialists to maintain one or two versions of a product is one thing. Managing many versions is impossible. Therefore after a (usually predesignated) period of time, support will be dropped for any given version of a program. In the case of operating systems reaching End-Of-Life (EOL) status, usually software developers (the people that make the “apps” you run, like web browsers or word processors) will stop building with support for that OS, as well.
Some have noticed that Windows products usually stay in support longer than Apple, which brings up an interesting point about how Apple does business: they have an entirely closed system, where they design the hardware, software, and many of the applications. By doing this, they can make sure their customers have the best experience possible.
There are two key reasons Apple ends support for older products: one is that at a certain age, the older hardware struggles to provide a quality experience in using modern software – even accessing the internet slows down as older CPUs can’t process newer, streamlined code in the same way! The other is that the more hardware products you have to support, the thinner you have to spread your software engineering team to make sure things are running smoothly – it’s much easier to support a smaller range of products, which is why there is a limited variety of Macs available to purchase at any given time.
We Can’t Provide Support When The OEM Doesn’t
This makes things difficult for repair shops like ours, as well. For one, security is a major concern. When software (we use the term interchangeably to refer to applications and operating systems here) is “out of support”, that means that the vulnerabilities that are constantly found by researchers and nefarious individuals are no longer patched. No antivirus or firewall product in the world can protect you from a core-level vulnerability in the OS.
What this means is that if you have a device running an unsupported OS or programs connected to the internet, you open yourself up to the risk of identity theft, theft of personal information, spying, or other forms of attack.
At The Computer Cellar, we take a very strict stance about repairing systems that only run out-of-support software. The risk level may not be extremely high for each individual, but when we deal with over a hundred computers a week, that adds up for us! As for you, it only takes one incident of identity theft to change your life forever. While of course each person must make their own decisions, we elect not to risk the liability for having installed something out of support.
Further, it gets a lot harder to do so as time goes on. It gradually becomes difficult to obtain install media, drivers, and patches. The work ends up costing more than it would to repair a modern system. To that end, we do not offer reinstalls or general software fixes on unsupported operating systems, nor do we attempt anything but the most basic of repairs on unsupported applications. There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule, but they are rare and usually involve specialized legacy equipment and software needs that are run offline – usually in industrial circumstances.
What OSes are Out Of Support?
While software/applications are too diverse and expansive to dive into here, we can talk about a few operating systems so you can get an idea of the obsolescence issues you might face.
Microsoft no longer supports Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, or anything prior to them. If you have a Vista-era computer, we can safely say that your hardware is aged and/or obsolete enough that a general replacement of the entire computer will be the recommended course of action, regardless of your current issue.
Critically (and most recently), support for Windows 7 was discontinued in January 2020. This is a big deal! A lot of people loved Windows 7 – with good reason – and a lot of people are loathe to give it up. However, unless you are part of a large company with an IT team that will be paying the exorbitant extended support fees Microsoft is charging, you’re being forced to move on.
Thankfully, in the years since Windows 10’s release, its design and ease-of-use have continued to improve. We’ll be the first to admit that it has its annoyances and glitches, but for the most part, it’s a reliable OS with many drastic cosmetic, performance, and behavioral improvements over Windows 7 (and Windows 8, of course).
While most users of Windows 7 can still upgrade to Windows 10 without having to purchase a new Windows license, we caution that most hardware from the Windows 7 era is also reaching the end of its useful life and may struggle to keep up with the modern OS, software, and internet. While we’re happy to evaluate your hardware and make suggestions, it will likely be wise to consider moving to an entirely new computer.
As for Macs, Apple’s support terms aren’t usually spelled out in black and white but, their general behavior indicates continued support including security updates for the last three versions of MacOS. Currently, this means that 11.1 Big Sur, 10.15 Catalina, and 10.14 Mojave are supported. 10.13 High Sierra reached end-of-life in November 2020, and 10.14 Mojave will go out of support November 2021. If you have a Mac made after 2012, most of them should be able to run Catalina. Big Sur support is a little more limited (usually 2013+). You can check your Mac’s highest compatible version by looking up the serial number at Everymac (or checking the specific Mac’s model year designation via Apple’s website).
If you’re using a Mac that only runs High Sierra or earlier versions, we cannot recommend strongly enough that you consider replacing your Mac. While again, there are some exceptions for certain use cases, these are rare, and it’s a struggle to keep some of this old hardware running.
Computers Do Have to Be Replaced Occasionally
Changes aren’t always easy to deal with, but the sooner you adopt those changes, the easier it will be to keep up. Putting off updates for years means you’ll be forced to take a much larger, much more difficult leap in the end. This is why we almost always recommend taking software upgrades as they become available (or within a few months, at least), rather than putting them off.
As for your computers themselves – we do certainly see the value in maximizing your investment, particularly with expensive Macs. Most Macs are declared obsolete (by Apple) after seven years, which is a REALLY respectable run when you consider that most Windows PCs are intended to last about five years, and that a lot of the cheaper laptops we consider commodity items today are meant to last roughly 2-3 years! We urge individuals to keep obsolescence in mind when shopping for new devices, and plan their spending accordingly.
We’ve seen the pain in people’s eyes when we tell them a laptop they spent $2,000 on a decade ago isn’t really worth a $300 repair, and we get it; but there’s limits to what technology can do, and eventually, we have to move on. It is a small relief that for the most part, technology has become accessible to all and even premium products are far more affordable than they were just a couple of decades ago. Depending on the market conditions, great deals can be found, and there’s a device that’s a good fit for just about everybody these days.