Q: Windows 10 is now five years old. How much longer will Microsoft provide critical updates for it? And what comes next? A Windows operating system that’s paid for by monthly subscription fee?
—James Labradori, Delafield, Wis.
A: Technology changes fast, but Windows 10 seems likely to be with us for several more years.
One reason is that the coronavirus has kept people isolated from each other, producing a surge of interest in using computers to stay in touch. Microsoft said that trend has also spurred public interest in using Windows 10, causing the company to invest more in the operating system.
Another reason to believe Windows 10 will be with us is that it doesn’t have a fixed expiration date as previous versions of Windows did.
For example, it was known years in advance that Windows 7 would stop receiving security updates in January of this year, making it no longer safe to use. But Windows 10 has an expiration date that keeps getting pushed forward: Each major update is supported for 18 months. But the expiration date never arrives because a new version of Windows 10 is automatically installed every six months, restarting the 18-month expiration clock.
In addition, Windows 10 is getting a new cousin called Windows 10X. Microsoft said 10X won’t run on PCs. Instead, it’s intended for stripped-down computers akin to Google’s Chromebook, which would run mostly online software.
Another 10X computer intended for the business market would be less capable than a PC, but have enough processing power to run its own software.
What does Windows 10X mean for the future? Microsoft has hinted that all Windows computers might eventually run some version of Windows 10X, but it hasn’t said when. And the introduction of 10X has been delayed from this fall until sometime next year.
A consumer Windows 10 subscription service (which would replace purchasing the operating system with a monthly fee to use it) has reportedly been discussed within Microsoft.
The idea is that a Windows 10 subscription fee could become part of Microsoft 365, which is currently the online subscription version of Microsoft Office. But subscriptions may not have much appeal to consumers.
So far, it’s estimated that Microsoft 365 is used by fewer than 20% of all Office customers. So, I think Windows 10 users might get a choice of purchasing or subscribing.
Q: I have a model N5110 Dell Inspiron laptop on which I tried to install Windows 10 when support was eliminated for Windows 7. I wiped the hard drive so I could do a fresh installation of Windows 10, but it wouldn’t install properly. I later discovered that this PC model isn’t compatible with Windows 10. Is there a workaround to make Windows 10 function?
—Bruce Johnston, Tamarack, Minn.
A: Dell said your 2011 PC isn’t compatible with Windows 10, which was introduced in 2015 (see tinyurl.com/y4zc653x). There’s no workaround for that type of obsolescence; the only way you can get Windows 10 is to buy a new computer.
Steve Alexander covers technology for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Email him at email@example.com. Please include a full name, city and phone number.