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Apr 18 2017

Microsoft Enforces Silicon Support Policy for Windows Clients

Last August, Shad Larsen – Microsoft's Director of Windows Business Planning – felt an urge to clarify the set of rules that would define Redmond's future approach to upgrading installations of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 on 6th-generation Intel® Core™ and later processors. In a very clear-cut contribution to the official Windows blog, he explained that, while sticking with the obligations laid out in its Windows lifecycle fact sheet for Skylake-based devices, the company would reserve the right to no longer support the 'old' OS versions on then still upcoming 7th-generation chips from Intel or AMD.

Effectively, this meant that Windows 7 and 8.1 would continue to receive all necessary security updates until they reach their respective EOL dates in 2020 and 2023 if installed on proper silicon. However, updates unrelated to security, aka functional improvements, would only be offered upon request and, possibly, for an extra fee. By implementing and enforcing this revised support policy, Microsoft now seizes the opportunity to gradually phase out both older OS's without creating another traditionalist user community like the 7.44% reported by Netmarketshare that still hold on to Windows XP a full 16 years after its release.

While most admins and security experts will appreciate Microsoft's decision to cut back the amount of supported platforms, they'll likely take a less favorable stance on the way it's bestowed on them: According to reports from Computerworld and The Register, Redmond started implementing the new rules alongside last week's combined rollout of security patches, system fixes and the Windows 10 Creators Update (aka Windows 10 version 1703). But as they began to apply the updates, numerous users of 6th-gen Intel and AMD CPUs (aka Skylake and Carrizo, respectively) found they were unable to follow the normal procedure and eventually received messages implying they had been shut out from this patch day altogether. In other words, their Windows 7 and 8.1 installations remained vulnerable to exploits the April upgrade was meant to repair, including hacks from the archives of potential NSA spying tools that were leaked by wacko activist group The Shadow Brokers on April 8 and 14.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has acknowledged the mistake and promised to dish out a timely patch for Carrizo-based systems, even though it remains unclear when it will arrive. Hopefully this means a similar remedy for Skylake processors is to follow soon. So far, the problem only seems to affect users of the Pro and Home editions of Windows 7 and 8.1 – at least that's the impression we get from the above-cited reports. But given that this month's patch day occurred just a few days before Easter, it's still possible that enterprises which postponed the update might face similar issues this week. If so, we'll follow up with an article in a couple of days.

For now, we suggest that in future, Microsoft should take the hint and keep separate updates separated.


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