Aging versions of Windows still alarmingly common in corporate use

Friday, May 31, 2019

An analysis of the Windows workstations monitored by Applixure reveals that Windows 7, which will lose Microsoft’s support in early 2020, is still used on every third PC. In addition, the number of different Windows 10 versions is quite high. Applixure recommends that companies check the current status of their operating system versions and plan an upgrade path as early on as possible.

Microsoft’s Windows operating system holds a dominating market share in corporate workstations and in the role of everyday work of millions of end users. A number of different versions of Windows are currently in active use and there are also various feature update version releases within the latest major version, Windows 10. Traditionally, Microsoft has provided limited support for aging operating system versions: general official support for Windows 7, originally released in 2009, will end in early 2020, for example.

Aging Windows 7 still actively used in every third end user workstation

According to Applixure’s usage data, the share of Windows 7 out of all Windows workstations is as high as 36%. This means that the aging operating system that will lose official support in early 2020 is today used by every third end user. On an organizational level, Windows 7 is in active use in over half of the companies.

Distribution of Windows versions

The share of Windows 7 is significantly high, even though the upcoming loss of official support is most likely a well-known fact and many companies maintain ongoing migration projects.

Why is Windows 7 so commonly used? We asked a leading Windows expert, Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Sami Laiho to analyze the data provided by Applixure.

”There are several reasons for the high share of Windows 7. For many companies, it is simply enough to have their applications run on Windows 7 and they have no compelling reason to migrate into Windows 10. Still today, there are few applications that specifically require Windows 10. In addition, companies want to take everything out of their existing hardware – if a workstation works, companies do not want to replace it and it is only removed from active duty at the very end of its lifecycle,” says Sami Laiho.

With Windows XP, Microsoft ended up continuing its official support several times. According to Sami Laiho, some companies may also be counting on similar extended support this time, too. In fact, extended support for Windows 7 will be available, but companies have to pay for the support with an annually increasing support fee. Microsoft does not need to provide general official support as the migration between Windows 7 and 10 is a smaller effort in terms of compatibility than the upgrade from Windows XP.

“Naturally, there are companies who believe that support from Microsoft is not needed at all. This is a dangerous path, however: installing official security patches is critical to ensure proper information security, for example,” Sami Laiho says.

Great variation in Windows 10 feature update versions

It is no surprise that Windows 10, originally released in 2015, represents the most popular operating system in the data with a total share of 62%. With Windows 10, Microsoft moved to a so-called Windows as a Service model. In this model, Windows 10 is improved with incremental feature update releases instead of releasing a new major version every now and then.

Within Windows 10, there are several of releases out there, starting from the original version of 1507 made available in 2015, to the latest version 1903, which has just reached general availability. Unlike older major Windows versions of the past, the support for feature releases within Windows 10 is fairly short.

Distribution of Windows 10 feature updates

Even though the total share of unsupported Windows 10 versions is fairly small, only 5%, Applixure’s data reveals great distribution in the active use of various Windows 10 feature update versions:

  • 1703, released in April 2017: 17%
  • 1709, released in October 2017: 30%
  • 1803, released in April 2018: 36%
  • 1809, released in October 2018: 13%

This means that corporate IT departments have not yet had the time to update to the latest Windows 10 version and instead use several different versions side by side. In fact, Microsoft’s Windows-as-a-Service model seems to be too fast for many organizations, especially considering that many updates also require a certain level of user training and application compatibility testing.

Wide variety of OS versions burdens maintenance

According to Sami Laiho, having a wide variety of different operating system versions within a single organization causes problems in maintenance, user support and security.

”Many features are different between the different Windows 10 versions, starting with the contents of the Start menu. With multiple OS versions, each version needs its own management settings. And when the settings are eventually changed, the update must be implemented in several places – possibly even in different ways,” Sami Laiho notes.

Problems also arise in user support. When support answers a call from an end user, they must have access to various devices and environments, at least virtually. This complicates and slows down support services.

”From a security perspective, having multiple OS versions running at the same time makes the overall system more complex and increases the probability of security problems. You have to plan and maintain security settings for many environments and the number of patches and update-related testing measures is higher. In a nutshell: the more versions you have in use, the more potential security holes,” Laiho summarizes.

Applixure’s recommendations for monitoring the operating system status

Upgrading OS versions requires planning and scheduling, both with main Windows versions and Windows 10 feature updates. Carefully planned migrations are essential to ensure compatibility and user productivity. Fortunately, Microsoft always communicates the end dates for support well in advance.

Applixure recommends all companies to actively follow up on the distribution of operating system versions within the company’s IT environment. For example, Applixure’s analytics provides an easy way to check the Windows or MacOS versions currently in use on both organizational and individual workstation level.

Having a constantly up-to-date situational picture helps in planning and prioritizing upgrades.

Applixure will follow up on the operating system distribution status later in 2019 as the end of the general support for Windows 7 draws closer.

Follow Sami Laiho on Twitter.

For this study, an anonymized sample of 50,000 devices from the workstations monitored by Applixure was analyzed. Over 300 organizations of various sizes and from different business domains are represented in the sample group.