Computer operating systems don't have an expiration date in the sense that they stop working after a certain date, but an OS has effectively expired when its developer stops supporting it. Microsoft provides two kinds of support for operating systems it releases: mainstream and extended. Even though an expired operating system still works after the expiration date, it's a good idea to upgrade to a newer OS when that happens.

Mainstream vs. Extended Support

Microsoft has a support lifecycle that follows its pattern of software releases. During an operating system's initial mainstream support phase, customers experience benefits such as security updates and non-security hotfix support. A hot fix is a software update that Microsoft creates to fix a specific problem. Extended support continues when mainstream support ends, but it doesn't have all the benefits you find when the operating system is still in the mainstream support phase. For example, you can't make a warranty claim when your OS is in the extended support phase.

Security Comes at a Price

Security threats abound on and off the Web. Anti-virus software may minimize your risks, but it's important to keep Windows updated. If you haven't disabled your Windows Update feature, your operating system installs new software that can fix existing problems and patch security loopholes. These updates do not occur after your operating system's mainstream and extended support end. If cybercriminals create new threats that target security holes in Windows, you're at risk if you can't get fixes that Microsoft creates.

Windows Expiration Schedules

As of January 16, 2014, the most recent Windows version was Windows 8.1. Mainstream support for this OS ends January 9, 2018 while extended support ends January 10, 2023. Mainstream support for Windows XP and Windows Vista has already expired. Vista's extended support ends April 11, 2017 and XP's extended support ends April 8, 2014. If you're using Windows 7, you don't have to worry about losing mainstream support until January 13, 2015. This operating system's extended support ends January 14, 2020.

Stay Safer on the Web

As the State of California Department of Justice recommends, it's important to keep your browser updated as well as your operating system. Like operating systems, browsers also become antiquated over time as developers release newer versions that are safer. Review your browser's documentation to learn how to check for updates. Some browsers enable you to adjust a setting that causes them to update themselves automatically.