As technological progress relentlessly marches on, hardware engineers toil away at faster, more efficient processors, and software developers work hard in creating the next generation of operating systems (OSes) and software for end users to make use of. A couple of decades ago, an OS like Windows might see a new major iteration every five to six years or so. Major productivity software like Microsoft Office might receive a new release every three to four years. In those days, updating your software wasn’t always necessary, if you didn’t need new features or support for new technologies.
The ubiquity of the internet has changed all that. For one, it has made delivery of updates and fixes both easier and faster. Windows now receives weekly updates and monthly cumulative patches, as well as a periodic major “feature update”. Chrome OS gets major updates every two weeks. MacOS receives a major upgrade every year.
Secondly, it has made receiving updates a much more important fact of life: the increased connectivity that has become part of our daily lives also exposes us all to enormous risk, from the possibility of hackers, scammers, malware, and viruses. Microsoft doesn’t just push out Windows updates to change things around on you, but they’re also working hard behind the scenes to make sure your computer system is as secure as possible from threats both within and without.
Many of our customers, when we tell them that their current OS or software has reached “end-of-life” or is “out of support” and that they need to upgrade, have many questions – the major two being “why does support end?” and “why should I upgrade, if this doesn’t offer me anything I think I need?” We’re going to try to explain both of these here in a simple way.
Change Is Inevitable
One fact we have to face is that technology will continue to change. Hardware will always continue to improve, and it follows that software developers will never stop developing: there will always be a new version (or an outright replacement) for whatever it is you’re using now, at some point in the future; whether you personally want it or not. As a result, the companies that produce these products have to provide support for them. This support comes not only in the form of technical support, but in the form of security updates/repairs, bugfixes, and threat mitigation.
These companies can’t support products forever. Paying software engineers and tech support specialists to maintain one or two versions of a product is one thing. Managing many versions is impossible. Therefore after a (usually predesignated) period of time, support will be dropped for any given version of a program. In the case of operating systems reaching End-Of-Life (EOL) status, software developers (the people that make the “apps” you run, like web browsers or word processors) will also stop building with support for that OS, meaning that applications like Chrome, for example, will eventually stop receiving updates on older platforms.
Some have noticed that Windows products usually stay in support longer than Apple, which brings up an interesting point about how Apple does business: they have an entirely closed system, where they design the hardware, software, and many of the applications. By doing this, they can make sure their customers have the best experience possible.
There are two key reasons Apple ends support for older products: one is that at a certain age, the older hardware struggles to provide a quality experience in using modern software – even accessing the internet slows down as older CPUs can’t process newer, streamlined code in the same way! The other is that the more hardware products you have to support, the thinner you have to spread your software engineering team to make sure things are running smoothly – it’s much easier to support a smaller range of products, which is why there is a limited variety of Macs available to purchase at any given time.
As for PC products in general, there’s also the concern of hardware vulnerabilities. Technical researchers have found security issues at the microchip level within our CPUs and motherboards, and while some of these can be patched or mitigated by firmware updates, not all can (and many of these updates impact performance). This is why some hardware will be excluded from modern software updates (Windows 11’s hardware requirements being a good example).
We Can’t Provide Support on Out-of-Date Software
This makes things difficult for repair shops like ours, as well. For one, security is a major concern. When software (we use the term interchangeably to refer to applications and operating systems here) is “out of support”, that means that the vulnerabilities that are constantly found by researchers and nefarious individuals are no longer patched. No antivirus or firewall product in the world can protect you from a core-level vulnerability in the OS.
What this means is that if you have a device running an unsupported OS or programs connected to the internet, you open yourself up to the risk of identity theft, the compromising of personal information, spying, or other forms of attack. While it’s easy to say “I’m not worried about that, it’s never happened before”, it only takes one case of identity theft to completely upend your life – and it can cost thousands of dollars to remedy. Even if you don’t use your unsupported device for something sensitive online, merely having it connected to your network makes it a vulnerable entry point that can compromise other devices, as well.
At The Computer Cellar, we take a very strict stance about repairing systems that only run out-of-support software. The risk level may not be extremely high for each individual, but when we deal with over a hundred computers a week, that adds up for us! As for you, it only takes one incident of identity theft to change your life forever. While of course each person must make their own decisions, we elect not to risk the liability for having installed something out of support.
Further, it gets a lot harder to do so as time goes on. It gradually becomes more and more difficult to obtain install media, drivers, and patches. The work ends up costing more than it would to repair a modern system. To that end, we do not offer reinstalls or general software fixes on unsupported operating systems, nor do we attempt anything but the most basic of repairs on unsupported applications. We also, in almost all cases, do not assist in attempting to bypass hardware/software requirements (e.g., by means of things like OpenCore Legacy Patcher.) There are, of course, some exceptions to this rule, but they are rare and usually involve specialized legacy equipment and software needs that are run offline – usually in industrial or medical environments.
What OSes are Out Of Support?
While software/applications are too diverse and expansive to dive into here, we can talk about a few operating systems so you can get an idea of the obsolescence issues you might face.
Microsoft no longer supports Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, or anything released prior to these. If you’re somehow still on one of these older OSes, it’s well past time to move on! Thankfully, Windows 10 and 11 are both stable, mature platforms with cosmetic, performance, security, and behavioral improvements over their ancestors.
Some people ask if they can be upgraded to a newer version of Windows on a computer they already have, but be aware that if you’re using a computer that shipped with Windows 7 or 8, the hardware is old enough that upgrading to Windows 10 would be inadvisable, and it definitely won’t run Windows 11.
As for Macs, Apple’s support terms aren’t usually spelled out in black and white but their general behavior indicates continued support including security updates for the last three versions of MacOS. Currently, this means that 14.x Sonoma, 13.x Ventura, and 12.x Monterey are supported. 11.x Big Sur went out of support in November 2023, and everything prior went EOL in the preceding years. If you have a Mac made after 2014/2015, most of them should be able to run Monterey or later. Ventura and Sonoma support is far more limited as Apple kills off their old Intel product line. You can check your Mac’s highest compatible version by looking up the serial number at Everymac (or checking the specific Mac’s model year designation via Apple’s website).
If you’re using a Mac that only runs Big Sur or earlier versions, we cannot recommend strongly enough that you consider replacing your Mac. While again, there are some exceptions for certain use cases, these are rare, and it’s a struggle to keep some of this old hardware running.
Computers Do Have to Be Replaced Occasionally
Changes aren’t always easy to deal with, but the sooner you adopt those changes, the easier it will be to keep up. Putting off updates for years means you’ll be forced to take a much larger, much more difficult leap in the end. This is why we almost always recommend taking software upgrades as they become available (or within a few months, at least), rather than putting them off.
As for your computers themselves – we do certainly see the value in maximizing your investment, particularly with expensive Macs. Most Macs are declared obsolete by Apple after seven years, which is a respectable run when you consider that most Windows PCs are intended to last about five years, and that a lot of the cheaper laptops we consider commodity items (or “budget” models) today are meant to last roughly 2-3 years! We urge individuals to keep obsolescence in mind when shopping for new devices, and plan their spending accordingly.
We feel your pain when we tell you the laptop you spent $2,000 on a decade ago isn’t really worth a $300 repair, and we get it; but there’s limits to what technology can do, and eventually, we have to move on. It is a small relief that for the most part, technology has become accessible to all and even premium products are far more affordable than they were just a couple of decades ago. Depending on the market conditions, great deals can be found, and there’s a device that’s a good fit for just about everybody these days.