Windows 8 users face patch spigot shutoff in 7 months

Windows 8 users have a little less than seven months to move to Windows 8.1 or be cut off from Microsoft's stream of security updates.

Windows 8 users have a little less than seven months to move to Windows 8.1 or be severed from Microsoft's security update stream.

The 2012 operating system will be retired from support on Jan. 12, 2016. After that date -- which is the month's traditional patch-release day -- users of Windows 8 will not see further security updates, including those for Internet Explorer 11 (IE11), the OS's bundled browser.

To continue to receive security updates, Windows 8 users must upgrade to Windows 8.1, the free 2013 edition available from the Windows Store, Microsoft's app market.

The January 2016 deadline has been in place since the debut of Windows 8.1 nearly two years ago, and was positioned as analogous to the 24-month grace period previously given to customers for migrating from a core OS to that operating system's first "service pack."

Although the service pack concept is now moot -- wounded by Windows 8 and to be authoritatively killed by Windows 10 -- Microsoft described the Windows 8-to-Windows 8.1 requirement in service pack terms.

"Historically, we've had a similar support approach related to Windows service packs," Microsoft stated in a long FAQ. "When a Windows service pack is released, Microsoft provides customers 24 months of support for the prior service pack or original RTM version. We designed Windows 8.1 to give customers an ability to deploy [it] in a manner that is similar to how customers deploy service packs, therefore we are applying the existing service pack support policy to Windows 8.1."

There is a not-insignificant number of devices running Windows 8, according to Web analytics company Net Applications. For May, Net Applications estimated that Windows 8 powered 3.9% of all Windows personal computers, while the newer Windows 8.1 ran on about 14.1% of Windows PCs.

Using the 1.5 billion number that Microsoft claims as the total of devices that run Windows worldwide -- a number some believe is overinflated, while others think it is an undercount -- Windows 8 is on approximately 63 million systems, Windows 8.1 on 226 million.

Windows 8's user share, a rough estimate of the number of the devices running the OS, is almost double that of Microsoft's even bigger flop of 2007, Windows Vista, which last month powered about 2.2% of all Windows PCs.

Unlike machines equipped with Windows 8.1, those running the year-older Windows 8 cannot upgrade directly to Windows 10, and are, in fact, not eligible for the free upgrade Microsoft will offer through the end of July 2016.

More specifically, Windows 8.1 must, at a minimum, be the version dubbed "Windows 8.1 Update," which Microsoft delivered in April 2014, and notoriously demanded that consumers install within one month, and businesses within four.

Windows 8 users thus have two paths to continued support: Upgrade to Windows 8.1 and stay there, or update to Windows 8.1, then upgrade to Windows 10. The latter is more sensible. But some will resist migrating to Windows 10. Many of those will not want to lose Windows Media Center, the DVR-like add-on that Microsoft sold for $9.99 to people running Windows 8 Pro.

"If you have ... Windows 8 Pro with Media Center or Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center and you install Windows 10, Windows Media Center will be removed," Microsoft acknowledged in a specifications listing for Windows 10.

Microsoft has published a detailed tutorial on how to upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 on its website.

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