Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Windows has what's called a 'lifecycle' - a series of stages beginning with release. I'll review what happens as a version of Windows nears end-of-life.

My OS is Vista and Microsoft intends to stop support on 10-Apr-2012. I know that thousands (if not many more) people throughout the world are very concerned about this. I personally am now very pleased with Vista. I have tested it against other computers running XP and Windows 7 and found that in all cases, it compared more than favorably. This is in no small way due to your newsletters as by using image backups, I have been able to modify Vista considerably. Your advice in this matter would I know be gratefully received by many people, especially those on tight budgets.

While I've rarely heard of this concern about Windows Vista, the sentiment actually applies across all versions of Windows.

How long can you keep using it?

Well, the glib answer is: as long as you want, as long as you understand the risks.

The more practical answer is: a lot longer than you may think.

Just ask the millions still using Windows XP.

The Product Lifecycle

Windows versions go through various stages over time, referred to as the product lifecycle.

From initial sales through end of sales through a couple of different stages of end of support, every version of Windows lives, and dies, through a fairly well-defined series of stages.

"End of support doesn't mean you can't keep using it."

Let's look at each of the end-of-life stages individually.

End of Sales

At some point, each version of Windows stops being sold. Typically, this happens after the next version has been available for a while. Even then, there are two different dates, depending on what kind of Windows edition you're talking about:

  • Retail editions: These are the copies of Windows that you can buy directly in computer stores and via online vendors. They're typically "generic" in that they don't assume any specific PC.

  • OEM editions: These are the copies of Windows that are included pre-installed on new machines. OEMs are companies like Dell or Gateway that sell actual computers. The version of Windows pre-installed on a computer is typically configured specifically for that manufacturer.

Retail sales stop first and OEMs are allowed to sell their pre-installed versions of Windows for a longer time - a year or perhaps even two longer.

There's nothing at all wrong with running a version of Windows that's recently gone off the market. It's sort of like purchasing last year's automobile model. Support will continue for some significant period of time.

End of "Mainstream" Support

This is what you're looking at with Windows Vista: mainstream support ends on the 10th of April, 2012.

Note that regardless of operating system, the end of mainstream support assumes that you have the latest service pack. In Vista's case, that's SP2. Mainstream support for Vista with only SP1 actually ended last year.

So what do you lose after mainstream support ends?

To be honest, not a lot that really matters:

  • "No-charge" incident support - I believe that these are those cases where you call Microsoft for support and that support turns out to be free, by whatever policies Microsoft might have in place. Most commonly, I think this is the case where you pay an up front fee which is refunded if the issue turns out to be due to a problem in Windows itself.

  • Warranty claims - The ability to make a claim for a refund relating to Windows own product warranty ends.

  • Design changes and feature requests - The ability to submit requests for product changes in this version of Windows is terminated.

To be honest, none of those really matter for most people. In fact, I'd wager that they're things that most people didn't even know of and they're more commonly made available to corporate customers.

The important stuff doesn't really end until the next level of end of life.

End of Extended Support

To put this in perspective, Windows XP has not reached this date yet. It's not until 2014 for XP and 2017 for Windows Vista.

The end of extended support is where you lose something important:

Security updates.

If you continue to use your version of Windows beyond the end of its extended support, you run the risk that a vulnerability might be discovered and not fixed.

Beyond support

Once extended support has ended, Microsoft pretty much washes its hands of that version of the OS. The online knowledge base of support information remains available, but that's about it.

Now to be fair, Windows XP will have been supported to this level for over 12 years and Windows Vista for just over 10. It's very likely that requirements of software being produced at the end of those periods will almost necessitate moving to newer version of Windows anyway, if not newer computer models as well.

But, let's say that you want to keep running your Windows Vista beyond 2017 anyway.

Go ahead.

Understand the risks of not getting security updates, but as long as you have hardware that it supports (like the machine it's on now), it'll still run. End of support doesn't mean you can't keep using it.

Just ask those people who are still running Windows 98. Smile

Practical ramifications

You might be at risk for malware or other security related issues. But on the other hand, malware will more likely also target the more current, and presumably more popular, eventual successors to Windows. As part of a dwindling minority of Windows Vista users five or more years from now, you might not present that interesting a target.

Once again, just ask those folks still running Windows 98.

More practical matters will probably force the issue.

A software update may require more than your current version of Windows can offer.

New software that you want to run might require a newer version of Windows than the one you're running.

Should you ever need to replace your computer or some peripheral, it's possible that newer hardware may not be supported by your older Windows version.

In your case, for Windows Vista specifically, I see no problem continuing to use it well into 2017 if you're happy with it.


Additional information from Microsoft:

Windows lifecycle fact sheet

Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy FAQ

Article C5074 - February 10, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Ken B
February 11, 2012 9:30 AM

Of course, the short answer is "you can continue using Vista (or XP, or 98, or...) forever, as long as the computer it's installed on keeps working".

Just don't expect to get support / bug fixes / software updates / etc. forever, as you noted in the "long answer".

February 14, 2012 8:54 AM

I am using Windows XP (with SP2) on my laptop and Windows 7 on my wife's laptop and on my desktop. What bothers me is that when I no longer can get extended support for XP, I will have to go to the expense of replacing the laptop because it will not support the 64-bit architecture required for Windows 7 or its successors. Otherwise the laptop works fine.

Gabe Lawrence
February 14, 2012 8:59 AM

A good article Leo, thanks. I only have one OS that is past extended support. It's a Win 2000 Server, yet I still have updates from time-to-time that are waiting to be installed. In fact, as I write this I have one waiting, it's a .NET 2.0 service pack (I think...not sitting in front of it). Apparently MS lets some updates get downloaded despite the end of support status. Like you mentioned in the article though, I don't recall seeing any "Security Updates" in quite some time.

February 14, 2012 9:06 AM

On the MS website some versions of Vista and W7 have Not Applicable for End of Extended Support. What does that mean?

I take it to mean that those dates haven't been set yet.
February 14, 2012 9:09 AM

I thought the extended support for Vista until 2017 are for Business and Enterprise editions only. It says on Microsoft Product Lifecycle - Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate are 'not applicable' for extended support.

February 14, 2012 9:12 AM

Bob - it means - tough luck, you get no support after 10th of April this year any more, also no more Windows updates. Only Business and Enterprise are supported until 2017.

February 14, 2012 9:13 AM

That is for Vista...

Tony Aimer
February 14, 2012 9:21 AM

People still using XP and 98?

I still have a machine running Win 3.1! I do not have it connected to a network and I use it as a production machine for Autocad Rel 10 2d drawings. My drawings are small and I have plenty of 31/2" discs and drives around.

I have NEVER been hit by a virus on that machine!

How about my running DOS 6 and a demo version of autocad as a plotter driver machine?

Can I claim a record yet?

PS: I do have Win 7 and Autocad Inventor Pro 2012 for other purposes.

Mike Castro
February 14, 2012 9:23 AM

Re the lifecycle issue. Some of my end users are still running DOS 6.22 and Win98, admittedly on old computer, but they say "software keeps on running OK so why update it?". Well yes it might, but someday the hard disks will fail and that will be it. In saying that I still have 5 computers running XP SP3, I have a laptop with Win7 Pro and I have to say I prefer XP everytime. Win 7 seems to have gone out of its way to be awkward, try finding the Exploere view options so you can see file extensions for instance.

February 14, 2012 10:02 AM

You really need to install SP3 for XP and there are 32 bit versions of Windows 7

February 14, 2012 10:33 AM

Does Leo write a question and then answer it. From the way the questions are written I'll just bet that Leo actually asks questions just so he can answer them and make us think that we are reading a question from a newsletter fan.

Nope, these are real questions. While I'll occasionally correct grammar and sometimes combine multiple similar questions, I deal with questions I get from real people. In the rare case I don't either there will clearly not be a question, or I'll actually say "this was me asking the question".
Tony Aimer
February 14, 2012 10:42 AM


My story about Win 3.1 is genuine all the way from Johannesburg in South Africa! I dont think Leo needs to generate questions -he has plenty of fans I think!

Tom Johnson
February 14, 2012 11:00 AM

Even if Windows 7 is an improvement for security why did Microsoft feel the need to change their Windows explorer and their search option with Windows XP because Windows 7 sucks for these features.

February 14, 2012 11:06 AM

There is also a 32 bit version of Win7. More in this other article:
Do I want 32-bit or 64-bit Windows?

February 14, 2012 11:14 AM

I -HAVE- seen Leo ask questions for himself in a few articles, but every time he mentions it in the text. Get the newsletter and attend the webinars and you'll see that questions and comments are from real people.

Pehhie Hughes
February 14, 2012 11:33 AM

Gosh I sure wish I had know when I bought my new computer last November that Windows XP wouls be in fairly good standing to 2014. I would have had it installed instead of learning a whole new OS at my age. I am 78 and don't like Windows 7 much.

February 14, 2012 12:23 PM

Thanks for the (as always) great info, Leo. You've set my mind at ease for a while. I'm not looking forward to upgrading to Windows 7 and am glad that I can postpone it for a while. I'm running Vista on my desktop & on our primary laptop; hubby is running XP on his desktop and on our old, secondary, seldom-used laptop; and I do believe that my old Dell desktop sitting on the filing cabinet in the corner still has Win 3.11. Should I be overcome with nostalgia at any point, I have the means to regress through time and Windows at my heart's desire. :)

February 14, 2012 4:47 PM

One thing that can kill an OS' worth more than lack of MS support is lack of third-party support. When you can't get AV updates to run under your OS anymore, every time you run your browser SOME site says you need to upgrade your browser (and a current version of ANYTHING won't run under it) and things like that, a perfectly good OS (I actually LIKED Windows 95B) becomes a hassle.

Glenn P.
February 14, 2012 5:41 PM

Join the club, Mike! I adored Win95b, too! Never gave me a lick of trouble!

Onsite pc
February 14, 2012 10:53 PM

the security problem only becomes an issue when antivirus releases are no longer updated, and new releases will not load on the old OS. Solution use a second pc (try linux) for online work and network it to your old Ms OS with all the working familiar App's and data.

Andrew Keir
February 15, 2012 2:58 AM

If your preferred version of Windows still does everything you want, why change it? Redmond produce a new version every time they want money off you - true, they've done wonders, but there comes a time when they're just tinkering with what's basically a good distro already. And if you add in the cost of the new RAM, hard drives, and your time installing each new Window 'pain', you're being 'taxed' £50 - £100 ($75 - $150) a year just to keep your Windows 'up to date'. Oh, and I've got a hard drive full of favourite old games that won't run on Win 7, so I'll be keeping at least one machine on XP until they plant me.
Or there's Linux (I prefer Ubuntu) - free, regular updates, and almost painless these days. But it means being different from the herd. Your choice.

February 15, 2012 6:52 AM

Microsoft support is still using XP Pro on their pc's, at least in Philippines, So is AT&T and many of the petrochemical refineries. I wonder why??? ( just a joke, I am not really wondering)

Tony Kightley
February 15, 2012 8:29 AM

I received an e-mail a few days ago from an elderly lady - mid 80s - to whom I supplied a second-hand computer loaded with Windows 95 very many years ago. She has negligible problems with it and it does what she wants. So, she is unlikely to change for the rest of her time she is physically and mentally capable of operating it! And she does not get any problems with malware. And, she does not get or need any support from Microsoft!!

February 15, 2012 12:51 PM

Yeah XP works pretty well if it works DON'T fix it.

David Aharon Lindzon
February 15, 2012 1:55 PM

I just want to say that if you are not using the Internet, and have a old system you never have to worry about new products ... or virus or malware ... it is also possible that someone may be happy with Lotus 123, dBase III plus and WordPerfect 4.2 or 5.1 on their MS DOS 3.3 or MS DOS 5 even though iBM or Microsoft does not support these antiquated computer systems... I still remember the day Bill Gates back then said you won't need more than 640 K memory and a hard drive of 33 megabytes on an AT machine. and 2 floppy drives. 360 K and the 5 1/4 A and 720 3 1/2 inch floppies and you could punch a hole in the 3 1/2 inch floppy and refomat it ito 1.44 megabytes ... and the BM and Microsoft IBM OS2 3 warp and Windows 95 wars My how time flies ... after all it's only 17 years since then ...

Bill actually never said that. Check the "Misattributed" section here: There are many other references debunking him ever saying that.
james williams
February 15, 2012 11:28 PM

What a wonderful, complete answer to that question. This is the most informative computer related newsletter I've had the pleasure of reading...ever. THANK YOU!

Robert Clayton
February 18, 2012 9:14 AM

The situation is that extended support is not given to consumer versions.

If you expand the link

"Extended support—Microsoft will offer extended support for either a minimum of 5 years from the date of a product's general availability, or for 2 years after the second successor product (two versions later) is released, whichever is longer. Please note: Extended support is only available for commercial customers."

I raised the issue with Computer Active Magazine
and they got the following answer

"Windows Vista (end of support) is currently slated for April 10, 2012. However, as we've done in the past, Microsoft will continue to evaluate the Support Lifecycle for Windows Vista and make decisions about extending support if and when it is necessary.

The default position is that consumer versions do NOT get extended support, including security fixes.

The good news is that Microsoft have now given both Vista and Windows 7 extended support.This has only happened within the last week or so without announcement.

I repeat, consumer versions do not get extended support as a norm.


February 22, 2012 8:18 PM

When your operating system is no longer supported then why not install Ubuntu for free, there are many happy users out there.

February 23, 2012 7:25 AM

I have to concur with the original question-writer: I, too, was very pleased with Vista. I just replaced a 4-year old Vista desktop with a new Dell running Windows 7. While it runs my many programs just fine, I was disappointed at a few things that Microsoft got really right on Vista, but abandoned in Windows 7, such as Quick Launch and Windows Mail. Yes, I have finagled both now on my Windows 7 computers, but...Why did I have to do any "finagling" to get these - they shouldn't have gone away (or have been hidden) in the first place.

Mark J
February 23, 2012 8:08 AM

Quick Launch was great, and Leo has put together a tutorial video on hwo to create one in Windows 7.
Making Your Own Taskbar Toolbar in Windows 7
As for Windows Mail, that wasn't Microsoft's fault. The EU forced MS to remove some features from Windows 7 to allow competition. MS has created the Windows Live programs to replace these.

February 24, 2012 8:51 AM

Thanks Mark. As I said, I was able to 'finagle' both Quick Launch and Windows Mail on my Windows 7 computers (actually, both already exist on Windows 7, but are hidden & buried). Quick Launch was not that hard to resurrect, but Windows Mail was (for me, anyway) a bit complicated.
But your comment about the EU was interesting...Why would Windows Live Mail be 'OK' (with the EU), but Windows Mail NOT be 'OK?'

Robert ODonnell
February 29, 2012 9:24 PM

Hello Leo,
I don't have a problem upgrading to Win 7, (I'm on XP pro now), but my problem will be the loss of some software programs like "photoshop", etc. I don't have all my access keys and I have heard that you just lose this software period? I would like to know if there is a way around all this? Thanks in advance...Bob O.

Several options are mentioned in this article and its comments for retrieving product keys from an installed system: How do I find the product key that was used to install my system or application?

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