Microsoft won't support many Skylake PCs without Windows 10

Yikes! A new policy retroactively withdraws support for PCs running Windows 7 or 8.1 if it has a new-generation processor

Microsoft won't support most Skylake PCs without Windows 10
Credit: Thinkstock

Microsoft's Windows chief, Terry Myerson, has posted a rambling blog, "Windows 10 embracing silicon innovation," that had little to do with Windows 10 or silicon (processor chip) innovation. Instead, for those who read far enough, it revealed that Microsoft will not provide critical updates for Windows 7 or 8.1 running on many PCs using the Intel Skylake CPU released last summer -- and already used in some new PCs. Microsoft today followed up with a list of the Skylake PCs that will get critical Windows updates.

Still, even those supported PCs will not get updates beyond July 17, 2017 -- nearly three years short of the Windows Extended support period during which critical updates are provided, which ends on January 14, 2020.

It doesn't stop with Skylake. Myerson listed other future processors for which Microsoft would not provide critical updates for Windows 7 and 8.1: Intel's Kaby Lake processor (due late this year), Qualcomm's 8996/Snapdragon 820, and AMD's Bristol Ridge processors. Nvidia was also mentioned in Myerson's post, but no specific processors were listed.

Myerson's rationale basically boils down to older versions of Windows' underlying technology being too old to support new system-on-a-chip technologies like those in Skylake, Kaby Lake, and Bristol Ridge, at least not without an investment Microsoft is unwilling to make for its old operating systems.

To me, this is yet another ham-fisted effort to force Windows 7 and 8.1 customers to move to Windows 10 -- because Windows 10 on PCs using these new processors will be supported.

I frankly also didn't think this new policy would stand, given that customers were already buying Skylake PCs with the assumption they would be supported like any other PC in terms of critical Windows updates. I fully expected to see a replay of the Keystone Kops antics from last November, when a hasty decision about the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool led to all sorts of stupid statements, and a knee-jerk decision led to an avalanche of miscommunication.

But so far, Microsoft has let Myerson's no-support policy for new processors stand.

To summarize: If you're running Win7 or 8.1 on a pre-Skylake processor, you're cool. Extended support for Windows 7 ends on Jan. 14, 2020, and extended support for Windows 8.1 ends on Jan. 10, 2023, as Microsoft has promised for years.

But PCs with Skylake or newer processors that run Windows 7 or 8.1 will get no critical updates at all, except for the ones in that list of supported PCs -- and their support only goes through July 17, 2017. Only those running whatever the current version of Windows is at their release will get critical-update support.

I'm not saying Microsoft should support Windows 7 forever. The real issue here is that enterprises especially want to hang on to Windows 7 as long as possible, given then disaster that was Windows 8, the tepid changes in Windows 8.1, and the ongoing gaps in Windows 10. It's not buyers' fault that Microsoft has screwed up the last three Windows versions, yet buyers are getting punished for sticking with the last reliable version of Windows -- particularly enterprises that have very legitimate reasons to stick with Windows 7. ("Reliable" meaning stable and compatible with their apps and hardware.) Why should they be restricted to Broadwell and older processors?

Until there's a new version of Windows that everyone can rely on, the burden should be on Microsoft to support whatever version is still reliable -- and especially not make enterprises choose between potentially unsafe, unpatched but reliable Windows 7 PCs and Windows 10 PCs whose reliability or fit is in question.