Windows 7’s five years of extended support will expire on January 14, 2020—exactly one year from today. After this date, security fixes will no longer be freely available for the operating system that’s still widely used.
As always, the end of free support does not mean the end of support entirely. Microsoft has long offered paid support options for its operating systems beyond their normal lifetime, and Windows 7 is no different. What is different is the way that paid support will be offered. For previous versions of Windows, companies had to enter into a support contract of some kind to continue to receive patches. For Windows 7, however, the extra patches will simply be an optional extra that can be added to an existing volume license subscription—no separate support contract needed—on a per-device basis.
These Extended Security Updates (ESU) will be available for three years after the 2020 cut-off, with prices escalating each year.
As an alternative, Microsoft is offering all three years of ESUs to customers of the new Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) service at no extra cost. This service offers cloud-hosted virtual machines running Windows 7 plus whatever applications are needed, and those virtual machines will continue to be patched into 2023. WVD uses existing Windows Enterprise E3 licenses, and it runs on the full range of Azure virtual machines, with no additional costs incurred. This includes, for example, GPU-equipped VMs, meaning that WVD should be usable for a wide range of workloads, just as long as running them in the cloud in the first place is acceptable.
Office 365 ProPlus—the name given to the continuously updated subscription version of Office—will continue to be supported on Windows 7, but only with the ESUs applied.
Similar policies exist for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2. These also drop out of free support in one year. For on-premises deployments, customers will be able to buy the Extended Security Updates, but workloads in Azure will receive all three years of fixes for free.