Ask LH: What Happens To Windows 7 Now?

Dear Lifehacker, So: Windows 8. Great . . . maybe. But is that it for Windows 7? Just one service pack and that’s it? Is nothing else being done for it? Yours, Hungry For Updates

Dear HFU,

The short answer: no, that’s not the end of the road for Windows 7 at all. No need to panic.

The longer answer: right now, Windows 8 is nothing like a completed product. The current developer preview gives us a very good sense of how Windows 8 will look, but it’s also highlighting areas that need to be fixed, and that process will take a while. We don’t even have an official launch date for Windows 8 yet. It has been widely speculated that it will appear in late 2012, but that’s not a confirmed target, and Windows release dates have a habit of slipping even after they are announced. In the meantime, Windows 7 is the official current version.

It has also never been the case that the appearance of one version of Windows means that its predecessors are entirely set aside. Microsoft is currently committed to offering enterprise support for Windows 7 until at least January 1, 2015, and it seems safe to assume that Windows 8 will have appeared by then.

More generally, service packs aren’t the sole metric for whether changes are being made to Windows. Typically, service packs include two elements: major new features for the operating system, and a bundle of all the previous monthly patches that have been issued to fix vulnerabilities and performance issues in Windows. However, that isn’t invariably the case: Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 was essentially only existing bug fixes, meaning that if you’d been regularly updating Windows (as everyone should), there wasn’t any visible difference after installing it. That pattern won’t necessarily be repeated, but it’s hardly out of the question.

Microsoft typically aims to release service packs every 12 to 18 months for Windows, but as you can see in this table, that varies quite a bit:

Note, though, that 18 months from SP1 for Windows 7 would take us into August 2012, so it’s way too early to start suggesting that SP2 is late. There has been speculation all year about when SP2 is due, but short of an official date, it doesn’t mean much.

Patches are still being released for Windows 7 regularly, and it’s certainly not inconceivable that a forthcoming service pack might incorporate some elements of the architecture being developed for Windows 8. But even if Windows 7 doesn’t get past SP1, regular updates are going to continue long after Windows 8 has been released commercially.


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