Microsoft cuts off Windows 8's security updates on January 12

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Windows 8 is about to get a lot less secure.

After January 12, Microsoft will stop offering security patches for the three-year-old operating system. Users will have to upgrade to either Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 to keep receiving updates.

As Ed Bott notes Windows 8 is an exception to Microsoft’s typical support lifecycle policy, which provides 10 years of security fixes after the initial launch date. That’s because Microsoft considers Windows 8.1—a meaty update released nearly one year after Windows 8—to be a service pack, rather than an entirely new OS. Microsoft only guarantees two years of security patches for users who don’t update to the latest service pack.

Granted, Windows 8.1 is a major improvement over Windows 8, sanding down many of the initial release’s rough edges. It feels more substantial than a service pack, but shouldn’t introduce any major compatibility issues coming from Windows 8, so it’s hard to think of any good reasons for end users not to upgrade. (There’s also the option of upgrading to Windows 10 for free, at least until this fall.)

Still, metrics firms NetMarketShare and StatCounter both show that Windows 8 accounts for nearly 3 percent of desktop Internet usage. At least that’s not as high as Windows XP, which stopped getting security updates in April 2014 and still accounts for around a tenth of desktop Internet usage.

The impact on you at home: The end of Windows 8 support is most likely to affect enterprises who’ve delayed upgrading, and end users who’ve had problems installing Windows 8.1. If you’ve put off the upgrade for whatever reason, now’s the time to back up your files and make the jump.

Microsoft explains what you’ll lose by upgrading to Windows 10

Microsoft announced today that it will be launching Windows 10 on July 29th, encouraging Windows 7 and 8.1 users to reserve their free upgrade with a notification in their task bar. However, while the company has been busy highlighting all the shiny new features in the upcoming OS, it's been a bit quieter when it comes to spelling out the limitations — including making updates automatic for Windows 10 Home users.

Firstly there are the software losses. Most of these will only affect a small number of users, but upgrading will mean saying goodbye to Windows Media Center, the card game Hearts, and Windows 7's desktop gadgets. Anyone in the habit of using floppy disks on Windows will also have to install new drivers, and Microsoft warns that watching DVDs will also require "separate playback software." Microsoft manager Gabriel Aul has said on Twitter that a DVD option for Windows 10 is coming later this year," but early upgraders can always download VLC instead.

In addition to the software losses, there are also a number of limitations for some of Windows 10's most exciting features. Cortana will only be available in the US, UK, China, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain at launch, while Windows Hello (which offers support for various biometric passwords) will need an infrared camera for facial recognition, or a supported fingerprint reader. The Xbox Music and Xbox Video streaming apps will also be constrained by the usual, complex web of region-based licenses.

More annoyingly, perhaps, Microsoft has also changed how updates will work with Windows 10. Although the Pro and Enterprise editions will both be able to defer updates, Windows 10 Home users will not have the option. Updates will instead be downloaded and installed automatically as soon as they're available. System requirements for the new OS have also been detailed, with PCs and tablets needing to pass a fairly low bar: a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a display resolution of at least 1,024 x 600 are required. These specs are a bit higher for the 64-bit version of Windows 10 but for these details and more, you can check out Microsoft's full specs page.

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