Do I Need to Replace My Windows 7 PC?
I never thought I’d ever hear the phrase “Windows 7” again, but a Lifehacker reader reminded me recently that yes, some people still use Microsoft’s end-of-life operating system. Not that they don’t want to, I suppose they will upgrade, but some people just can’t; they probably tried, got an error, and gave up.
But won’t clinging to Windows 7 become a security issue in the future? Lifehacker reader Suzanne asks:
I have an old Windows 7 computer and it cannot be updated. I only use it for a few things like printing bank statements, emails, text documents, storing photos, and the like.
I was worried that I don’t have the most secure WPS3 and cannot get it. I currently have WPS2 psk or something like that. I’m in danger? Do I need to buy a new computer?
I would probably leave Windows 7 sooner rather than later
The point is, ordinary people using Windows 7 no longer receive updates for the operating system, except for extremely critical and rare issues that Microsoft identifies – and I doubt these updates will arrive via Windows Update. You will need to hear about them, visit some Microsoft websites, and download and install the update yourself. Most people will not do this, and I would not expect this to happen with any regularity in the coming years.
What does it mean? Your computer is a kind of time bomb. There is no doubt that there is a chance that some future vulnerability will be discovered and exploited by those who want to take advantage of an operating system that can never stop them; there is also a chance that your system will be completely hidden from radars, and you can continue with your main activities.
Should you risk it? I do not think so. But I’m also not going to blame you for continuing, because not everyone has the time, budget, or interest in buying a new computer to continue doing basic tasks that worked on their older paid machine.
However, before I get to the real advice, here’s one quick and easy answer: Don’t worry about “WPS3” – in fact, WPA3 , which is the security standard for a wireless network. WPA2, which you use to encrypt your wireless network. I would say that this is more than enough if you have a strong enough password. I doubt if anyone is sitting outside your house or with a laptop against the wall of your shared apartment trying to hack into your wireless network. Just make sure you are using WPA2-AES and not WPA2-TKIP or WPA2-TKIP + AES for the best wireless speeds possible.
But back to Windows 7. Once again, I doubt that you should continue to use the operating system, namely that eventually your browser will no longer receive security updates. It just adds another nasty vector that attackers can use to ruin your digital life. You may have a year; you may be two years old, but one day your web browser manufacturer will stop updating it for Windows 7 computers. This is definitely the time I would recommend upgrading to Windows 10 or some other neat trick.
Let’s talk about these tricks. Have you recently tried upgrading Windows 7 to Windows 10? I’d like to take one last chance before you drop that towel using the simple “use a USB key as installation media” technique that I described earlier. You may be more fortunate now.
If not, I would go the second way: make a backup of all important things on your system, even if this requires buying an external drive that you should already have on hand and which you will use for regular data backups. … Do not create a complete disk image, as this will cause chaos later, but copy all important files to another location using good old Windows Explorer or any number of free backup tools.
Once you’ve done that, use the same installation media (your flash drive) to try and do a clean install of Windows 10. This means you’ll erase all of its data from your drive during the setup process and install Windows 10 onto a fresh digital canvas. …
If it works, great. You may be able to activate it for free if you also use your old Windows 7 key. But if that doesn’t work, don’t worry.
Since there is little you are doing in your system, you can also explore the possibility of installing Linux – yes, Linux – which will provide you with security updates and features are very similar to your existing desktop. This is a completely different operating system, which means that some things will be a little strange (and some esoteric applications may not work). However, it will suit you for all the basic tasks you described.
I recommend using Linux Mint , which is easy to install and pleasing to the eye, or something like Ubuntu Mate . You will need to use your laptop (or borrow from a friend) to make a USB dongle for this if you have already wiped your Windows 7 system. You would install Linux Mint basically the same way you tried to install Windows 10, and once it will be up and running, you can eject your external drive (or your favorite cloud service, or whatever) and restore your data.
Again, this takes a little getting used to – it’s not Windows after all – but it will be a much safer outlook than sticking with Windows 7 for the next few years. If this all sounds like too much work, you can always opt for a new budget Windows laptop or a cheaper Windows desktop . I don’t like this approach, given that your old computer must be good enough to do what you do, but it’s an option.
Regardless, make sure you back up your data – ideally in multiple locations – before you start messing around with your Windows 7 PC. I can’t stress this too much. Don’t lose out on the best parts of your existing setup for messing around. In fact, you may want to have your Windows 7 installation disc (or flash drive) in standby in case you raise your hands and want to go back to how it was before.