I never thought I’d hear the phrase “Windows 7” again, but a Lifehacker reader recently reminded me that, yes, some people still use the Microsoft end-of-life app. It’s not that they didn’t want to improve, I think, but some people can’t; maybe they tried, met with a message of error, and then gave up.
Will sticking to Windows 7 be a security issue going forward, anyway? Lifehacker student Suzann asks:
I have an old computer running windows 7 and I can’t upgrade. I select only a few items such as printing my bank statements, emails, text messages, photo storage, and so on.
I was worried that I didn’t have a WPS3 that was very secure and I couldn’t get it. I currently have a WPS2 psk or something like that. Am I in danger? Do I need to buy a new computer?
I may be removing Windows 7 soon
Here’s the deal: ordinary people running Windows 7 don’t get any other app updates, keep the critical and unusual issues identified by Microsoft – and I doubt those updates will come with Windows Update. You should find out about it, visit a particular Microsoft website, and download and install the update yourself. Most people will not do this, and I did not expect it to be a common occurrence in the years to come.
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What does this mean? Your PC is a time bomb of sorts, of sorts. There is certainly a chance that future disruptions will be detected and exploited by those who want to take advantage of an effective system that will never stop them; there is also the possibility that your system will fly completely under the radar and you will be ready to continue with your basic tasks.
Is it dangerous to do so? I do not think so. But also I will not blame you for continuing, because not everyone has the time, budget, or interest to buy a brand new computer to continue doing the basic tasks that have worked just to get on their old, paid machine.
Before I get any real advice, here’s a quick and easy answer: Don’t worry about “WPS3” — literally, WPA3, which is the security of offline communication. The WPA2 you use to encrypt your wireless network is more than enough, I would say, as long as you have a strong enough password. I doubt that anyone is sitting outside your house or has a laptop on the wall of the house you share, trying to force them into your wireless network. Just make sure you use WPA2-AES, not WPA2-TKIP or WPA2-TKIP + AES, to get the best wireless speed.
But back to Windows 7. I have some doubts about the suggestion that you should continue to use the operating system, i.e., eventually, your browser will stop receiving security updates. That just adds one unpleasant vector that attackers can use to disrupt your digital life. You can have a year; you may be two years old — but in one day, your web browser maker will stop updating it with Windows 7 machines. That’s exactly the time I’d recommend upgrading to Windows 10 – or come up with another trick.
Let’s talk about those tricks. Have you tried trying to upgrade Windows 7 to Windows 10 recently? I would donate the last gun before throwing in the towel, using the simple “use of USB key in input media” process that I described earlier. You will probably have better luck now.
If not, I’ll go the second route: Back up all the important things in your system, even if that means buying an external drive to do it – something you should already have and use to back up your data regularly. Do not create a full drive image, as that will cause later distractions, but copy all your important files elsewhere, either using the beautiful Windows Explorer or other number of free backup tools.
Once you have done that, use the same installation media (your flash drive) to try the clean installation of Windows 10. That means you will erase your drive for all its data during the installation process and install Windows 10 in the new digital device.
If that works, fine. You may be able to use it for free if you use your old Windows 7 key, too. If it doesn’t work, though, don’t worry.
Since you are not doing much on your system, you can also check and install Linux – yes, Linux – which will give you security updates and the exact same experience as your existing desktop. It’s a completely different app, which means some things will be a little weird (and some esoteric apps may not work). However, it can be useful for all the basic tasks you have described.
I recommend using Linux Mint, which is easy to install and easy on the eyes, or something like Ubuntu Mate. You will need to use your laptop (or borrow a friend’s) to make a USB key for this once you have uninstalled your Windows 7 system. or your favorite cloud service, whatever) and restore your data.
Also, this may take a little getting used to – not Windows, after all – but it could be a much safer prospect than sticking to Windows 7 in the next few years. If all of this sounds like too much work, you can always pick up a new Windows Laptop or a cheap Windows desktop. It’s not the way I like it, given that your old PC should be good enough to do what you do, but it’s a way.
No matter, make sure you back up your data – especially in many places – before you start playing with your Windows 7 PC. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t miss out on the best parts of your existing setup because you’ve been roaming. In fact, you may want to have a Windows 7 disc (or flash drive) in standby in case you throw your hands up and want to get back to the way things used to be.