It's time to pull the plug on Windows 7

As is the case for Outlook, OneDrive, and Internet Explorer, Microsoft's pile of Windows legacy is collapsing, and the only hope is to make a clean break

Users and businesses alike are clinging on to Windows 7 as if it is the last hope for their PCs. It's time to stop and either seriously prepare to move to Windows 10 or move to a more stable and reliable option, like the Mac's OS X or even desktop Linux.

I understand why people cling to Windows 7:

  • Windows 7's predecessor, Vista, sowed deep doubts about Microsoft's ability to manage Windows' future. (Vista is why I switched to a Mac, from which I safely watch the horror show that has been Windows from my stable, no-drama perch.)
  • Windows 7's successor -- Windows 8 -- reopened all the Vista wounds with a confusing, unusable mess of an OS.
  • Windows 8.1 added several Band-Aids but kept the Windows 8 wounds raw.
  • Last year's Windows 10 is the first decent Windows since 2009's Windows 7, but it's not complete, and its functional gaps and Microsoft's ongoing series mismanaged updates give users good cause to wait.

But it's clear that Microsoft can't, or at least won't, support its older Windows versions. The company mainly pretends that Windows 8 doesn't even exist, with most policies and updates focused on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. As for Windows 7 and 8.1, they consistently nag customers into upgrading, and Microsoft is withholding support for new PC technologies if you continue to run Windows 7 or 8.1.

It's Microsoft's fault that users cling to Windows 7. But that clinging makes it even harder for Microsoft to get its act together. Its ability to build the future is hampered by the strong pull to support the past.

It's not only Windows, of course:

  • The Outlook platform is also a mess, with different architectures, protocols, and features from platform to platform, resulting in a fractured, unreliable collaboration environment.
  • Ditto for OneDrive and SharePoint in Office 365, which also don't work on the operating systems you'd expect (like, seriously, Windows 8.1) and whose functionality is rickety and full of holes in several versions, both on-premises and in Office 365.
  • The same goes on the browser front, where Internet Explorer and some of its technologies like Microsoft's version of Java and ActiveX have become a sprawling mess of incompatibility that has forced many companies to stay stuck in the past.

In all these cases, Microsoft is slowly -- too slowly -- working to bring a consistent, modern architecture to all its core apps and services, jettisoning older versions along the way. It'll take years at Microsoft's current pace, unfortunately.

Ironically, if customers adopted the new technologies, Microsoft could stop investing in the past even faster than it is doing now. It sure needs to stop spending resources on the legacy if it hopes to actually build the future.

The problem, of course, is that these new technologies are not completely ready. Windows 10 is better than Windows 8, but not as stable as Windows 7. Office 365 is great on the productivity side -- or will be when the enterprise version of the Office 2016 suite for Windows is finally released later this month -- but terrible on the collaboration side. The new Edge browser meant to to displace Internet Explorer isn't that good, and users are avoiding it.

Still, it's time to fish or cut bait.

In the case of Windows, that means planning to move to Windows 10 this year, at least for general-purpose PCs. If you have apps and hardware that won't work in Windows 10, replace them if possible and isolate them to the minimum number possible of Windows 7 systems, and be sure to use older PCs for such purposes to ensure hardware compatibility.

If Windows 10 really won't work, then switch to the Mac as your baseline PC; OS X is much more compatible for general office use than most IT shops will admit. Look at Linux PCs for specialty functions, like instrumentation controllers. The bottom line is that if Windows really can no longer do the job, you need to move to something that can and whose track record is not so soiled.

Whether you switch to Windows 10, OS X, or Linux, you'll have to abandon Internet Explorer. It's as much a chain to the past as Windows itself and is often co-dependent on a Windows version. Chrome should be your standard browser on a Windows or Linux PC, and Safari on a Mac. if you're concerned about Google spying on your Web traffic, use Safari on Windows and Firefox on Linux. If you use an app dependent on a specific version of IE, you need to get rid of it -- and you've known that for years. Procrastination must end.

If you switch to Windows 10 or OS X, you'll also get a better Office 365 experience than on earlier Windows versions. Although the Mac apps still lack some of the key newer features, the base functions in Outlook and OneDrive are now stable enough for most; if SharePoint access is critical in your Office 365 environment, look to tools such as Colligo's instead -- Colligo's tools are more compatible with SharePoint than Microsoft's OneDrive is.

Clinging to the past only prolongs the pain. We've had eight years of Windows pain. It's time for that pain to end. Move on.