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Law Firms Are Being Compelled to Go to Windows 10 Before Buying New Computers

Marcus BluesteinMicrosoft is eager to get customers to Windows 10. Part of this campaign involved pushing the new system automatically to many users’ home computers last year when it came out. Now Microsoft is subtly issuing limited compatibility requirements for new processors, meaning that your firm all but has to upgrade to Windows 10 if you are planning to buy new computers. This is important news for law firms, 90% of which are running Windows 7, according to a survey by the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA).

Many firms are also running desktops and laptops that are four to five years old and due for replacement. They will find that they can’t both keep avoiding Windows 10 and buy new equipment. 

If your firm has upgraded to Windows 10 or plans to very soon, then you are fine. If not, take heed of these changes.

As background, most computers run on core processors designed by Intel, and Microsoft in turn makes its operating systems compatible with them. For purposes of planning your near-future hardware purchases, there are three categories of Intel processors to know about:

  • Kaby Lake - This processor was announced at CES and began shipping earlier this year. If you are about to buy new computers, they will probably be running Kaby Lake. This chipset does not support Windows 7 or 8.1 at all. Microsoft announced in January that Kaby Lake will only be compatible with Windows 10, and that all future processors will also only support the latest Windows 10 operating system. We have tried retrofitting new hardware with Windows 7 and 8.1, and it is difficult. The upside is that Kaby Lake does boast a significant boost in performance, responsiveness, and graphics. Even if you are able to get the older OS to work, you will be running an unsupported configuration that I believe is not worth the risk. 
  • Skylake - Skylake is the version that precedes Kaby Lake. If you’ve bought hardware within the last 18 months, it’s probably running Skylake. Windows 7 and 8.1 are compatible with this processor—for now. Initially, Microsoft announced that Windows 7 and 8.1 will only be supported on these machines until July 2017. After an outcry from customers, however, the company extended the date to July 2018. After that, no drivers will support pre- Windows 10 operating systems. This means that driver updates will be geared towards Windows 10 only, and as time passes and lapsed patches accumulate, malfunctions and vulnerabilities will arise. Running Sky Lake past July 2018 will be risky and inadvisable.
  • Everything Else - Your firm’s two-to-four-year-old workstations, laptops, and tablets are running pre-Skylake processors, which have no restrictions regarding Windows 7, 8.1, or 10. The drawback, of course, is that these computers are dated and they’re not getting any younger. They also are not being sold by most mainstream retailers anymore, and buying your firm’s computers on eBay is not a safe practice.

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To sum up, if you are buying new computers for your firm today, and you are running Windows 7 or 8.1, you are limited to buying computers that run Skylake, and these will only receive updates until July 2018 anyway. They are also slightly older than the new release that run Kaby Lake. We just spoke with a firm who wanted to buy Surface Pro tablets for its attorneys, but ended up having to buy older machines because the firm is running Windows 7. Buying older computers is generally not a good investment and this is especially true in this case. 

Marcus Bluestein is the Chief Technology Officer at Kraft Kennedy. He leads all of Kraft Kennedy’s technical practice groups, drawing on more than twenty years’ experience of designing and implementing information systems at law firms and other businesses as well as on his current research of emerging trends in enterprise technology. Marcus has served as interim IT director at large firms, designed and managed data centers, and redesigned document management system implementations. He specializes in helping businesses to develop, implement, and test business continuity and disaster recovery plans. Marcus joined Kraft Kennedy in 1992 after graduating from Hobart College with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a minor in Mathematics.
 

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