In less than two years, Microsoft will draw the final curtain on Windows 10 after a successful 10-year run.
That news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The end date is right there on the Microsoft Support document that lists “products retiring or reaching the end of support in 2025.” The schedule is defined by Microsoft’s Modern Lifecycle Policy, which is documented on the Microsoft Lifecycle page: “Windows 10 will reach end of support on October 14, 2025. The current version, 22H2, will be the final version of Windows 10, and all editions will remain in support with monthly security update releases through that date.”
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When a Windows version reaches its end-of-support date, the software keeps working, but the update channel grinds to a halt:
[There] will be no new security updates, non-security updates, or assisted support. Customers are encouraged to migrate to the latest version of the product or service. Paid programs may be available for applicable products.
That part in the middle sounds encouraging, doesn’t it? “Customers are encouraged to migrate to the latest version of the product or service.” Unfortunately, that’s not a supported option for customers running Windows 10 on hardware that doesn’t meet the stringent hardware compatibility requirements of Windows 11. If you try to upgrade one of those PCs to Windows 11, you’ll encounter an error message. And Microsoft is adamant that it will not extend the support deadline for Windows 10.
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If you’re responsible for one or more Windows 10 PCs that fail Microsoft’s Windows 11 compatibility tests, what should you do? You have five options available.
Option 1: Ignore the end-of-support deadline completely
You could do nothing at all — just continue running your unsupported operating system and hope for the best. That’s a bad idea, one that exposes you to the very real possibility that you’ll fall prey to a security exploit. I don’t recommend this strategy. If you’re intent on doing so, consider installing the free 0patch agent to deal with any security issues that aren’t addressed by Microsoft. That option is free for personal use, but for business or enterprise use, you’ll need to pay for 0patch support at a rate that equates to a few dollars a month.
Option 2: Buy a new PC
Microsoft and its partners would like you to replace that unsupported hardware with a brand-new PC. If Windows 12 arrives in mid-2024 as expected, you might even be tempted by a shiny new laptop or gaming PC, which runs that next-generation operating system. But throwing away a perfectly good PC seems wasteful, and it’s not an option if you’re hanging on to Windows 10 because you have mission-critical software that won’t run on the new OS.
Option 3: Ditch Windows completely
You could keep your old hardware and replace Windows 10 with the flavor of Linux you prefer. If you’ve got the technical know-how and experience to manage the transition, that option is worth considering. But for the overwhelming majority of consumers and businesses that have existing investments in Windows software, it’s not a realistic alternative.
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The final two options are more attractive.
Option 4: Pay Microsoft for security updates
You remember the official support document that I quoted earlier? The one that says there will be “no new security updates” after Windows 10 reaches its end-of-support date? It turns out that’s not exactly true. Microsoft will indeed continue developing security updates for Windows 10, but they won’t be free. Microsoft announced in December 2023 that it will offer Extended Security Options (ESUs) for Windows 10; these subscription-based updates will be available for up to three years. How much are these paid-for updates going to cost? Microsoft doesn’t say, promising only that further details will be available “at a later date”.
Option 5: Upgrade your old hardware to Windows 11
That pesky compatibility checker might prevent you from upgrading your Windows 10 PC the easy way, but there are indeed officially supported ways to install Windows 11. You just have to jump through a few technical hoops.
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You can find all the details in a Microsoft Support bulletin titled “Installing Windows 11 on devices that don’t meet minimum system requirements.” That document packs a lot of FUD into just a few paragraphs:
Installing Windows 11 on a device that does not meet Windows 11 minimum system requirements is not recommended. If you choose to install Windows 11 on ineligible hardware, you should be comfortable assuming the risk of running into compatibility issues.
Your device might malfunction due to these compatibility or other issues. Devices that do not meet these system requirements will no longer be guaranteed to receive updates, including but not limited to security updates.
The following disclaimer applies if you install Windows 11 on a device that doesn’t meet the minimum system requirements:
This PC doesn’t meet the minimum system requirements for running Windows 11 – these requirements help ensure a more reliable and higher quality experience. Installing Windows 11 on this PC is not recommended and may result in compatibility issues. If you proceed with installing Windows 11, your PC will no longer be supported and won’t be entitled to receive updates. Damages to your PC due to lack of compatibility aren’t covered under the manufacturer warranty.
[emphasis in original]
Don’t be fooled by the language in the bulletin. As I’ve noted before, the document really doesn’t say that Microsoft is going to cut off your access to updates; it simply says your PC is no longer supported and you’re no longer “entitled” to those updates. That word is a tell on Microsoft’s part, disclaiming legal responsibility without actually saying what it will do.
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The installation instructions that allow you to bypass the compatibility check are in a separate support article: “Ways to install Windows 11.” To perform an upgrade, you need to create the following registry key values:
- Registry Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\Setup\MoSetup
- Name: AllowUpgradesWithUnsupportedTPMOrCPU
- Type: REG_DWORD
- Value: 1
You still need a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), but even an old TPM 1.2 chip will do. If your PC doesn’t have that hardware, it’s probably more than 12 years old and maybe you should replace it after all.
If you don’t want to mess with the registry and you’re willing to do a clean install, just create a bootable Windows 11 installation drive and use that option, which bypasses the compatibility checker completely. You’ll need to restore your data files from a backup or from the cloud, and you’ll also need to install your software from scratch, but that’s no more difficult than setting up a new PC.