Microsoft decided to extort Windows 7 users too

Opinion: Pay us more or lose any semblance of security

2012 Microsoft LogoNot content to blow both feet off with a shotgun, Microsoft is going for the kneecaps now by blackmailing it’s customers. If you are still dumb enough to use Windows, you are about have your wallet shaken down by Microsoft in a familiar yet still unwelcome way.

We don’t feel the need to sugarcoat this much because the company’s behavior is so blatant and uncaring it is almost staggering. Worse yet the victims, that would be almost all Windows users, have only themselves to blame because the pattern has been well laid out for years now. Microsoft has been unapologetically blackmailing users for years, anyone who bought one of their products in the last few years should have known better.

What are we talking about? Windows 7, Windows 8, and security. Microsoft has been putting out OSes that are both unsecurable and known vulnerable because it makes them more money. Fixing their security problems would cost them quite a bit of sales so they simply do not make the attempt to fix any of the gaping systemic design problems with security in their offerings, instead they just redefine security and cut out any press that dares question their approach. Ad money works wonders here, just go look at the initial glowing reviews for Windows 8 if you don’t believe me.

No I am not joking. Microsoft knowingly launched Windows 7 with security holes in place, they knew about the problems and still launched it unpatched. Vista launched with a host of, “this time it is different again” security promises too. Microsoft didn’t even bother patching known vulnerabilities for Windows 8 before shipping either. Worse yet once 8 shipped, they didn’t retroactively apply security fixes for known vulnerabilities to Windows 7, users of that OS were left unprotected. Stop and think about this for a minute, they knew there was a problem, had a fix, and did not apply it to the OS they were no longer selling while urging users to upgrade. That is extortion, minor extortion but still extortion.

After Windows 8 shipped and died in the market, Microsoft decided to unilaterally deny security patches to most XP customers, note the word most. They wanted you to upgrade and for most users the upgrade was a functional downgrade, not to mention a costly one. People weren’t upgrading mainly because Windows 8 was and is fundamentally awful. To fix this little revenue generation roadblock, Microsoft decided to make their bestselling OS insecure to threaten users. Please note they still made and still do make new patches for XP, they just won’t give them to you anymore unless you pay them a lot of money. Again extortion and according to Net Applications, about 25% of the net is being denied these vital fixes by Microsoft.

25% of the net is being extorted Microsoft now

With Windows 8.1 they did it again, if you didn’t upgrade from 8 to 8.1, you were cut off from security patches almost immediately. Please note that this includes those customers who bought tablets and other doorstop form factors that were precluded from upgrading because of their OEM, problems with the upgrade itself, or many other assorted hiccups. Not upgrading is inconvenient to Microsoft so they made the PCs of those users insecure to force them to change. Even if your problems were directly their fault, one of the many known issues or not, they cut off your access to security patches. That is quite simply extortion.

Corporate customer are starting to take notice however but due to Redmond’s rather aggressive sales tactics they tend not to be very public about their concerns. Anyone want a surprise BSA audit? If not you had better toe the Microsoft line in public, loudly too. The only one to speak out so far about Microsoft’s unacceptable security extortion behavior was surprisingly the Chinese government. Yes they banned Windows 8 purchases because Microsoft extorted the country and about 70% of its computer users in order to force an upgrade. Strangely the Chinese government did not appreciate the idea of being forced to pay tens of billions of dollars for licenses and uncountable billions more in upgrade costs because Microsoft felt the need for more revenue.

A vendor puts out an unacceptably awful product that is an expensive regression from the status quo, extorts those who don’t upgrade, then the victim decides to break the abuse cycle. Isn’t that kind of an odd conclusion for a company or government to come to? If you ask any sane person what they think, they will probably wonder what took you so long. Microsoft on the other hand sees this type of behavior as an unacceptable affront and went on another massive astroturfing campaign behind the scenes to vilify the Chinese government over it. No I am not joking.

This is where the footgun came in. Microsoft blew off both feet earlier, one with the sheer awfulness of Windows 8, the other with extorting users into upgrading by withholding XP security patches. Redmond knew what they were doing was wrong in both cases but since doing the right thing would cost them income, they just screwed customers. Not satisfied with cratering the entire PC business, driving millions of customers away for good, and making their intentions crystal clear to enterprise buyers, they are doing it again.

Yes you heard that right, after losing the consumer compute market for good, Microsoft is about to screw over their one remaining stronghold, enterprise. How? Windows 7 EOL. If you are not familiar with enterprise IT, you might not understand exactly how bad Windows 8 is for the enterprise. It is completely unsuited for business use, from lack of touchscreens, forced upgrade cycles, user training, software incompatibilities, cost, and just plain employee backlash, 8 is a non-starter. The promised fix called 8.1 didn’t even rise to the level of window dressing for consumers and was less useful for enterprise.

Some may counter that Windows 9 is coming and it will fix all of the problems, exactly what they said about 8.1. It didn’t. “You’ll get used to the UI” they said. Nope. 8.x is a corporate nightmare and promises from Redmond starting out with XP being secure to the next version fixing everything are worth their weight in electrons. In short no one believes Microsoft’s BS anymore, from the consumer to enterprise, no one will risk their careers on Redmond’s promises anymore.

When Windows 9 arrives and if it fixes the problems it may be considered by those who haven’t already gotten off that train. In the mean time nearly the entire Microsoft corporate customer base has avoided Windows 8.x. Microsoft is quick to point out that the sales of the OS are doing quite well, a technically true statement. This however is because Microsoft won’t sell you anything else anymore, if you want Windows 7 you need to buy an 8 license and ‘downgrade’. If you look at the actual usage numbers above, 8 and 8.1 combined are still not half of the Windows XP user base but 7 makes up more than half of all PCs out there.

So how does Redmond use this to make up for their lack of revenue growth? The only trick in the corporate handbook is extortion so extortion it is. Again. After all it worked well enough to squeeze money out of many XP users, just don’t bring up that 25% who still can’t or won’t upgrade. Those victims are likely seen as a lost cause by Microsoft but the 50%+ on Windows 7 are an untapped revenue opportunity. That is who Microsoft is trying to extort this time.

Microsoft's Windows 7 blackmail dates

Add Windows 7 users to the victim list soon

Yes you see that right, if you are on Windows 7 you have six months from yesterday before Microsoft unilaterally cuts off your access to security patches. You know, those holes that they are responsible for, the ones you pay them to not put in products in the first place, the ones they promised wouldn’t happen in this version, or the last, or the one before that. On January 13, 2015 you can’t get patches anymore unless you pay Microsoft a lot of money. Once again they will be making the patches until January 14, 2020 but they won’t let you have access to these vital security patches. Also note the subtle hint about paying up in the last column too, still don’t think this is extortion?

The fix to this extortion is, wait for it, to upgrade! Yes you need to upgrade to a newer version of Windows. Windows 8.x has been roundly rejected by consumers, found to be unacceptable by corporate users, and loved by just about no one. So that leaves Windows 9, you know the one that will fix everything from UI woes to security. Again. Users can go from 7 directly to 9, right?

Nope, Windows 9 is set for release in, “mid-2015”, roughly six months after the Windows 7 EOL and security extortion date. Even if it was released on the day that the Microsoft 7 extortion started there is no way any sane corporation could evaluate it and deploy it in time. Even Windows 8.x does not have enough time for most corporate evaluation and upgrade cycles at this point.

By now you probably have the right idea in your head, if you have a PC that is relatively new but lacks a touch screen or isn’t compatible with 8.x, you are screwed. If you are a company that has an application that is incompatible with 8.x, you are screwed. If you are a home user that doesn’t want to spend several hundred dollars to upgrade, you are screwed. If you are just about any PC user that doesn’t love Windows 8, you are screwed. To paraphrase a modern slogan, they are the 99%.

Luckily Microsoft doesn’t care. Windows 8 cratered sales and drove away users for good. The early PR lies from the company about it being the economy rather than the quality of their product fell flat when tablet sales continued to boom. The rejection of the platform by corporate users and the increasing move to cloud apps, just not Microsoft’s cloud apps if the statistics are to be believed, is purely coincidental according to the company. Microsoft blew off both feet with these two stunts and now they are reloading the gun. They still have knees left and so Windows 7 users are going to be extorted. Just like with the Surface debacle, they are going to pretend to be surprised when the backlash hits this time too. You shouldn’t be, but if you are still on Windows, enjoy the extortion.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate