Microsoft will not support older Windows versions on forthcoming PC hardware

According to a recent announcement made by Microsoft, PC systems that are built on the Intel 6th generation CPU, more famously known as Skylake, and run Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, will have to upgrade to Windows 10 within the next 18 months. The Redmond tech giant is doing this to bring everyone into the Windows 10 umbrella.

The company has said that after July 17, 2017, only the “most critical” security fixes will be released for Skylake and those fixes will only be made available if they don’t “risk the reliability or compatibility” of Windows 7 and 8.1 on other (non-Skylake) systems. It also states that non-Skylake machines that run on Windows 7 will get full range of security and compatibility fixes until Jan. 14, 2020, while Windows 8.1 systems will be up to date until Jan. 10, 2023.

Microsoft emphasized that, for optimal performance, systems with the latest generation processors need to have the latest generation operating system. According to the company, this would enable them to focus on deep integration between Windows and the silicon, while maintaining maximum reliability and compatibility with previous generations of platform and silicon. This means that next generation processors, including Intel’s “Kaby Lake”, Qualcomm’s 8996 (branded as Snapdragon 820), and AMD’s “Bristol Ridge” APUs will only be supported on Windows 10.

In the past, Windows 10 was criticized for its politics of forcing updates, some of which led to bugs and system instability. The company also deployed a persistent campaign advising users of Windows 7 and Windows 8 to adopt Windows 10, free of charge.

A short list of approved devices that use Skylake processors was provided by Microsoft to PC world that will continue to be supported during the 18 month period when running Windows 7 or 8.1. Those systems are: Dell Latitude 12, Dell Latitude 13 7000 Ultrabook, Dell XPS 13, HP EliteBook Folio, HP EliteBook 1040 G3, Lenovo ThinkPad T460s, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and Lenovo ThinkPad P70.

The company’s official reason for this change is a little opaque:

At the same time, we know many of these customers continue to rely on Windows 7 for its well understood reliability and compatibility. Windows 7 was designed nearly 10 years ago before any x86/x64 SOCs existed. For Windows 7 to run on any modern silicon, device drivers and firmware need to emulate Windows 7’s expectations for interrupt processing, bus support, and power states — which is challenging for Wi-Fi, graphics, security, and more. As partners make customizations to legacy device drivers, services, and firmware settings, customers are likely to see regressions with Windows 7 ongoing servicing.

In conjunction with the system builders, Microsoft will test those systems with Windows 7 and 8.1 to ensure that the compatibility with the older OSs does not hinder the new hardware’s performance.

This list above, which Microsoft will continue to update, specified which devices will be singled out for special attention.

For the listed systems, along with our OEM partners, we will perform special testing to help future proof customers’ investments, ensure regular validation of Windows Updates with the intent of reducing potential regressions including security concerns, and ensure all drivers will be on Windows Update with published BIOS/UEFI upgrading tools, which will help unlock the security and power management benefits of Windows 10 once the systems are upgraded.

But where do these concerns arise from?

It is because novel technologies, such as Skylake, set off from the behavior of older CPUs. To demonstrate, Skylake utilizes power to a certain degree of autonomous power management, allowing the chip to respond more quickly to changing demands than the operating system can. Experts in the field confirm that merging the last-gen CPUs with dated software is both resource-consuming and complex.

The USB Type-C presents a similar challenge, as it is too new for Windows 7 to tap into it.

Terry Myerson, executive VP of Windows and Devices Group, spoke to Ars Technica about the changes.

The primary reason for the new update schedule is the conservation of quality states Myerson. To ensure that Skylake receives the best quality support for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 meant a “large investment” for the company.

Even if some of the user experience depends directly on third-party contributions, Microsoft assumes a role of quality control for systems that work primarily on Windows. The company is convinced that binding the latest silicon releases with the newest operating system will reduce the complexity of the PC ecosystem, thus enforcing high quality standards.

“Compared to Windows 7 PC’s, Skylake when combined with Windows 10, enables up to 30x better graphics and 3x the battery life – with the unmatched security of Credential Guard utilizing silicon supported virtualization,” Microsoft points out.

It seems like a good tactic by the Redmond-based company, but enterprise customers might have a hard time getting used to it. Some organizations made a standard out of older variants of Windows, as it allowed them to use “downgrade rights” to their own benefit. In other words, this means that even after upgrading their hardware systems, firms were able to keep using an old version of Windows.

Microsoft will probably keep the downgrade rights, but there are little guarantees that older Windows versions would function properly on the latest hardware.

Bristol Ridge from AMD is scheduled for the first half of 2016, while Kaby Lake from Intel will arrive a bit later, but before 2017. Both CPUs will feature Windows 10 compatibility out of the box.

Microsoft’s statement makes no mention of its server operating systems. This could lead to some displeasure in the enterprise user base. For example, the Skylake generation Xeon E3-1275 v5 continues to receive Windows 8.1-equivalent Windows Server 2012 R2 support or the Windows 7-equivalent Windows Server 2008 R2 support after July 2017, then Microsoft’s clients have a strong reason to question why the desktop counterparts cannot do the same.

On the other hand, if the servers’ CPUs will get zero support for older Windows versions, data center enterprises might be forced into upgrading to Windows 10, Windows Server 2016 right away. It should be noted that the server customized OS did not launch yet.

Whether the announcement is a smart move on Microsoft’s part that will eventually be well-received, or is it a worrying development that sees the company exercising too much control over enterprise customers? Only time will tell.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here