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Windows 10: Upgrade time is here now that Windows 7 support is over -- what you need to know

Support for Windows 7 is over. For security, software updates and other reasons, it's time to stop procrastinating and make the move to Windows 10.

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The revamped, customizable Start menu on Windows 10.

Nate Ralph/CNET

The day has finally come: Microsoft support for Windows 7 has officially ended. This shouldn't come as a surprise to Windows users: Microsoft promised 10 years of product support for Windows 7 when it was released in October 2009, before shifting focus to supporting newer technologies. 

As of Jan. 14, Microsoft no longer offers technical assistance or software updates to your device, and the company has encouraged people to upgrade to Windows 10 to keep their PCs and laptops secure. (If you're a Windows 8.1 user, extended support for that OS won't end until January 2023.) 

Keep reading for everything you need to know about the end of Windows 7 support, and how to make the switch to Windows 10 for free. 

Read more: RIP, Windows 7. Upgrade to Windows 10 free -- here's how

Why did Microsoft end support for Windows 7?

Microsoft has a long-established Fixed Lifestyle Policy for many of its products. For each version of its OS, the company offers a minimum of 10 years of support (at least five years of Mainstream Support, followed by five years of Extended support). Both types include security and program updates, self-help online topics and extra help you can pay for. 

Windows 7 was released in October 2009, so its 10 year life cycle has come to a close. Windows 10 was released in 2015, and extended support for the latest version of the OS is slated to end in 2025. 

Read more: The best antivirus protection of 2020 for Windows 10

Does this mean my Windows 7 computer will stop working?

Your Windows 7 computer will keep working, but Microsoft won't provide security updates or fixes, or technical support for any issues -- leaving your computer at greater risk from viruses and malware that may circulate to take advantage of any flaws that are later discovered

That's why it's important for you to switch to an OS version that Microsoft will still put resources behind.

Do I really have to switch to Windows 10?

No one can force you to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10, but it's a really good idea to do so -- the main reason being security. Without security updates or fixes, you're putting your computer at risk -- especially dangerous, as many forms of malware target Windows devices

Windows 10 also has a number of built-in security tools: Windows Defender Antivirus protects against malware and spyware across email, apps, the cloud and the web, while Windows Hello offers a password-free sign in option to unlock your devices with your face or a fingerprint reader. A Find My Device service can lock and erase your Windows device remotely, or map the location of your device. 

Isn't Windows 10 buggy?

Some people have been hesitant to make the switch due to reports of several bugs in earlier versions of Windows 10. But Microsoft has made several changes to its update approach starting with the May 2019 release, including slower rollouts with additional testing, more options for pausing updates and more disclosure of known issues, so your experience should be smoother.

Many of the issues were due to the fact that updates are happening more frequently, said Gartner Research analyst Steve Kleynhans. "But overall most users seem pretty happy with the OS and like the experience it brings, especially on newer devices," he added. 

Read more: 6 simple security changes all Windows 10 users need to make 

What's the difference between Windows 7 and Windows 10? 

Besides a suite of security tools, Windows 10 also offers more user features. One is the Your Phone app, which allows you to access texts, notifications and apps on your phone using your PC -- similar to Apple's Continuity features. A feature called Calls allows you to place and answer Android calls on your PC (and you can connect your iPhone to your Windows PC as well). A dictation feature lets you easily record ideas. 

Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana is also available on Windows 10 PCs. The OS also integrates better with Microsoft OneDrive and other cloud tools.

Read more: 11 easy Windows 10 tricks you didn't know about 

The most recent Windows 10 November 2019 update includes some new features such as changes to notifications that will make them easier to configure and manage from an app or website, and the ability to create events directly from the Calendar flyout on the Taskbar, instead of opening the app. 

Unlike previous versions of the OS, Windows 10 offers automatic updates by default, to keep systems more secure. (You can turn these off if you want to, by going to Windows Update Settings > Advanced Options and changing from Automatic to another option in the drop-down menu.) 

How do I upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10? How much will it cost me?

You can buy and download Windows 10 via Microsoft's website for $139. While Microsoft technically ended its free Windows 10 upgrade program in July 2016, as of January, CNET has confirmed that the free update is still available for Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 users. Check out our step-by-step guide on how to upgrade to Windows 10 free

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