Just because Microsoft sells Windows 7 support doesn't mean you can buy it

Just because Microsoft sells Windows 7 support doesn't mean you can buy it

What good is extended support for an ageing OS if businesses can't find a reseller to sell it?

Credit: Microsoft

In four weeks, Microsoft will push Windows 7 down a flight of stairs, proving that it thinks the decade-old OS has outlived its purpose and must give way to a sleeker, shinier, newer Windows 10, which, by the way, will live forever.

How humiliating for Windows 7, the OS that once powered one billion-plus PCs.

Microsoft has made exceptions, as it often does, for its most valued customers. Enterprises can fork over fees for what Microsoft has tapped as "Extended Security Updates," or ESU; in exchange they'll receive patches that repair critical and important vulnerabilities.

The ESU program will run for three years, starting in January, in one-year increments. A company that paid for the first year would receive updates through January 2021, at which time it would decide whether to continue another year - for double the price of the previous period - or drop out.

That model, Microsoft has implied, should motivate customers to adopt Windows 10 as soon as possible.

Compared to past instances of OS expiration, like Windows XP's in 2014, Microsoft has been positively transparent about post-retirement plans for Windows 7. It discussed ESU publicly for one thing, announcing the deal in September 2018 and starting to sell the add-on licenses in April 2019.

Not surprisingly, ESU was to be available only to the larger and largest customers, businesses that obtained Windows via volume licensing. (It's not so much the squeaky wheel that gets the Microsoft grease, but the biggest squeaky wheels that buy the most lubricant.) Additionally, firms with Software Assurance plans or subscriptions to Windows 10 Enterprise would receive discounts.

Only in October did Microsoft expand ESU to businesses of all sizes. Smaller customers not eligible under the original rules, Microsoft said, were to contact a Microsoft cloud solution provider (CSP), the reseller program authorised to sell ESU licenses to this secondary crowd.

"Starting on December 1, 2019, businesses of any size can purchase ESU through the cloud solution provider (CSP) program," wrote Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, in an Oct. 1 post to a company blog.

Sounded great. Too bad it wasn't so.

It may be for sale but that's doesn't mean you can buy it

Those who have been trying to purchase an ESU license through a CSP haven't had any luck.

"At this point, purchasing an ESU license isn't easy," said Susan Bradley, a computer network and security consultant, the moderator of the mailing list and the contributor known as "The Patch Lady" to the Windows tip site, in a Monday post to the latter.

"Microsoft recommends searching for a CSP through its online database. But most of those vendors are probably not interested in handling one or a few Windows 7 ESU purchases."

Bradley and Amy Babinchak, a Michigan-based IT consultant and Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), teamed up earlier this month to work through and document the ESU purchasing process for "businesses of any size."

In a December 7 status update, Bradley said Babinchak's usual distributor (Babinchak is a registered CSP) wasn't "aware of it coming" and pointed out that the searchable list of CSPs - where Microsoft recommends customers start - largely consisted of partners that don't work with small businesses.

Bradley and Babinchak have so far struck out.

So did Ed Bott, the well-known Windows columnist at ZDNet. On Monday, Bott reported a similar result from his search for an ESU seller to very-small-to-small business.

Bott's money quote? "Microsoft doesn't seem particularly interested in taking your money if your business is too small."

How small is too small?

"Normally, I would prefer not to sell that SKU in small quantities," said a remarkably candid representative from a CSP that Computerworld spoke with, referring to Windows 7 ESU. The representative asked that their name and the name of their company remain anonymous, not wanting to risk their relationship with Microsoft.

When asked why, the representative was crystal clear. "It has a small margin and it's not a subscription and it has a manual ordering process [on our end]," the representative said.

As the representative mentioned, ESU is not a subscription: Each year must be purchased separately as each new year approaches. Rather than "touch" the order once - preferable from the sellers' perspective - they would have to potentially process it three times.

So, where is the tipping point, sell or don't sell?

"All things combined, it's not profitable to sell anything less than 20-30 units, at least," the representative said.

There it is. Just because it's for sale doesn't mean you can buy it. Not if your small business is well, small.

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