DURBAN - Whether you consider it progress or a ploy to sell us another PC, one thing is certain: Windows 7 is old news as far as Microsoft is concerned. As of January next year, no further security fixes or updates will be released and the decade-old operating system will be considered obsolete.

Everybody: If all you ever do on your computer is type letters and print them, you could probably still get by with a computer from 20 years ago. But Microsoft don’t make a “Windows for Word Processing”, they make Windows for everybody, and Windows has to work on everything from the entertainment system on a jumbo jet to an ATM.

Plan: Are you unsure about the Windows version you’re using? Find out by following the steps at https://tinyurl.com/wvguide2019.

If you are still using Windows 7, don’t worry - you have time to plan your transition. While Windows 7 has a January 2020 best-before date, it’s not going to die on the first day of February. It will work just as it always has, and because millions of people will still be using it, you can be sure that popular software like Google’s Chrome browser, Adobe Reader and other PC essentials will continue to work for several months to a few years.

The most significant and immediate concern will not be functionality, but security. Within a month or two of January, it’s likely that a new vulnerability or bug affecting Windows will come to light. That’s not unusual - hundreds of these are discovered every year. The difference is that newer versions of Windows will be quickly patched to address these issues, while Windows 7 will not. If the vulnerability is significant, you can expect viruses, malware and similar bad stuff appearing. As long as your Windows 7 PC remains connected to the internet, you will become increasingly vulnerable. The overall security of your computer will gradually, but steadily, decline.

Compatibility: There are a few factors to consider when planning a change from one version of Windows to another. One of the most common is compatibility. Just as Microsoft limit their support for old software, so too do device manufacturers. Sometimes you get lucky and your decade-old HP DeskJet printer simply plugs into your new computer and works, but often, you’ll find a perfectly functional device simply won’t work with a newer version of Windows, because the manufacturers haven’t produced updated driver software. Printers, scanners and similar peripherals are commonly affected, but any device could be, and the support is hit and miss. Your best bet is to try it and see, or contact the device manufacturer for advice if possible.

Software compatibility is also a concern. Most popular Windows software will run fine from one version to another, but there’s a good chance that any older or custom-developed software may present a problem. These need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. There may be upgrades available, or a custom-developed application may need to be rewritten. If this is impossible, there are ways you could still run these older applications. I’ll explore these options next week.

THE MERCURY