Microsoft just dropped a bombshell. Older versions of Windows will not be supported on the newest chips from Intel and others.
The crux of a statement from Terry Myerson, executive vice president at Microsoft, is that new processors won’t run older versions of Windows reliably – and won’t be supported. “Going forward, as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support,” Myerson wrote, in a blog post addressed to "enterprise customers," aka, businesses.
So, in the future, don’t expect to be able to run Windows 7, for example, on the newest 6th Generation Intel Core “Skylake” processors that are shipping in systems today. Maybe more importantly, future processors will be supported on Windows 10 only. Some of those future chips include Intel’s upcoming “Kaby Lake” silicon, Qualcomm’s upcoming “8996” chip, and AMD’s upcoming “Bristol Ridge” processor, Myerson wrote.
Related: Here are the best laptops of 2015
“Windows 7 was designed nearly 10 years ago,” Myerson wrote in the blog post, asserting that Windows 7 just doesn’t cut it anymore because the underlying “legacy” code is too burdensome to continue to support on new chips, particularly for businesses.
“Redesigning Windows 7… to embrace new generations of silicon would introduce churn into the Windows 7 code base,” Myerson wrote. Translation: it's difficult to keep older versions of Windows up to date with the latest chip technology.
Not surprisingly, not everybody sees the move in a positive light. “Supposedly Microsoft is ‘clarifying’ its Windows support policy, but completely changing it might be another interpretation,” said Network World. And a column at ComputerWorld railed, “I'd be screaming at my MS rep if I were an IT manager.”
Related: Top 10 smartphones of 2015
Luckily, the new policy won’t be enacted immediately. Through July 17, 2017, computers using Intel’s Skylake chip will be supported on Windows 7 and 8.1. But Microsoft is quick to add that “during the 18-month support period, these systems should be upgraded to Windows 10 to continue receiving support after the period ends.”
After that date, only the most critical Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 security updates will be addressed for these configurations, Microsoft said.
Despite the inconvenience the policy change may cause, it can’t be characterized as simply a nefarious plot by Microsoft to get businesses to buy new PCs with Windows 10. While that certainly can boost the company’s bottom line, Microsoft is also trying to make Windows run more reliably, a longstanding bone of contention for users, particularly when compared to Apple’s tightly-controlled OS X operating system.
“Matching the latest [Windows] with the latest silicon is a way for the entire PC ecosystem to guarantee the best possible performance moving forward,” Bob O’Donnell, president of TECHnalysis Research, told FoxNews.com. Maintaining drivers -- code that allows hardware to function properly -- on older versions of Windows is especially challenging, he said.
And security is another big reason. Security on Windows 10 running Intel’s Skylake chip has improved, Myerson said. In a statement provided to Microsoft, Steve Worling, managing director of NASCAR Information Services, said that Windows 10 “brings a new set of capabilities for identity, information protection and malware resistance.”
And don’t panic if you’re using Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 on older chips. Windows 7 will continue to be supported for “security, reliability, and compatibility” through Jan. 14, 2020 on older Intel and AMD processors. “Windows 8.1 will receive the same support through January 10, 2023. This includes most of the devices available for purchase today by consumers or [businesses],” Myerson said.