you want to keep running Windows 7? Good luck with that
December 17, 2019
Support for Windows 7 ends in just a few weeks. After Jan. 14, 2020, Microsoft will no longer provide free security updates and bug fixes for the venerable operating system to the general public.
Those updates will be available, however, to Microsoft customers who are willing to pay for the privilege. The Windows 7 Extended Security Update (ESU) program runs for an additional three years, through January 2023, and it's been officially available since Dec. 2, 2019.
When Microsoft first announced the Windows 7 ESU program, in September 2018, the company said these updates would be available to its most valuable customers: Giant corporations and government agencies with volume licensing subscriptions and medium-sized businesses and educational institutions with Windows 10 Enterprise or Education subscriptions.
Then, in October 2019, Microsoft extended the program to businesses of all sizes. If you run a small business (even a sole proprietorship) and you want to keep using Windows 7, that should be good news. But as I learned this week, Microsoft doesn't seem particularly interested in taking your money if your business is too small.
Anyone who administers Windows PCs in a large organization with an active volume licensing contract has it easy. They can deploy ESU to Windows 7 devices by downloading a Multiple Activation Key (MAK) from the Volume Licensing Service Center and then installing a few servicing stack updates and using a command-line tool to register the new key.
Businesses that aren't big enough for a volume licensing contract, however, are not so lucky: Microsoft says you small fry have to purchase Windows 7 ESUs through one of its partners in the Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program. Sounds easy, right?
For this article, I went in search of Windows 7 ESUs, figuring it would be a simple task, and I could share the step-by-step procedure here. I discovered that unless you already have a relationship with a friendly CSP, the process is far more difficult than it should be.
My starting point was the same one you should use if you're interested in the ESU option, the comprehensive, official Microsoft FAQ about Extended Security Updates for Windows 7. There, you'll find this Q&A:
Who should I contact for more information about pricing and ordering for Windows 7 ESU?
VL customers: Please contact your Account Team CE for pricing and ordering information that is tailored to specific customer scenarios.
Customers who are interested in purchasing Windows 7 ESU in CSP should reach out to a CSP partner. You can find a qualified partner at this site.
That link takes you to the Microsoft Solution Providers database. I filled in the three blanks, specifying my business location (US) and size (one to nine employees). But the final field, which asks for "products, services, skills, industries, or organizations," is a stumper. I settled on "Cloud Solution Provider," which returned eight results.
After reviewing the capsule description for each provider, I wasn't encouraged. All the recommended firms were large consultancies with broad-based skillsets, targeting companies that will pay them big bucks to do medium- and large-scale deployment and development tasks. None of them seemed like the type of firm that would be interested in a onesy-twosy license deal with a very small business.
I chose the maximum of three providers, entered a description of what I was looking for, provided contact information, and clicked the Send button.
Within 15 minutes, I had a response. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly what I was hoping. The No. 1 provider on my list, the one Microsoft had assured me, was the best match for my request, was "unavailable."
Twelve hours later, I got another message, apologizing that my second-best match was also "unavailable."
I'm still waiting to hear back from the third and final match. Meanwhile, I contacted the two companies with whom I already have an established reseller relationship and asked if they could help. One said, "Sorry, no." The other seemed stumped but passed the request along to someone who might have more detailed product knowledge. A few hours later, I got this reply:
Unfortunately, you would need to reach out to a reseller to purchase this license. We're not able to sell to an end user directly.
I suppose I could keep trying, but I'm not feeling optimistic; instead, I'm disappointed that Microsoft has chosen to make this option so difficult. I've worked with Microsoft's cloud partners before, and it's not a simple point-click-pay-activate process. Instead, you have to set up an Azure Active Directory tenant, create a reseller relationship with a partner to give them access to your Azure AD portal, and then have them fill your order.
Also: The PC was supposed to die a decade ago. Instead, this happened
Another reseller that I contacted confirmed that scenario exactly, replying to my request with this note:
We received your message regarding Windows 7.
We are Cloud Solution Provider and only provide licenses for customers who have a commercial account.
If you are interested in becoming a commercial customer of Microsoft please let us know.
That's an awful lot of hoops to jump through to buy a single product key that's good for a year and doesn't require any deployment or support. What's especially galling is that Microsoft long ago allowed customers to skip all those partner hoops and buy Office 365, Microsoft 365, and other cloud-based services directly from the Office 365 portal.
It's almost like Microsoft wants people to become discouraged and give up.
It doesn't have to be this way. Microsoft has been serving pop-up notifications about the Windows 7 end-of-support deadline for several months now. After support officially expires on Jan. 14, 2020, Microsoft is going to start delivering a full-screen warning to PCs that are still running Windows 7.
You would think that any of these pop-ups would be an ideal opportunity to help diehard Windows 7 fans access those paid updates. Just add one more option: "Pay for extended security updates." Give people the usual dire warnings about how it's a dead-end and Windows 10 is more secure. Make them click through an ironclad legal waiver. Hell, require that they upload a video of themselves holding today's newspaper to prove they're serious. But if they want those updates, Microsoft, take their money.