All software has a ‘lifecycle’. It gets developed, released, updated and eventually abandoned — usually after a new version or two has been released in the meantime. There’s nothing to stop you using software that’s been dropped by its developer in this way, but with no further updates or bug fixes in prospect, you face an uncertain future if something goes wrong with it.

We’ve written much about the demise of Windows XP over recent months, not least since it was launched 14 years ago and was only finally abandoned by Microsoft in April last year. Microsoft makes more than just operating systems, of course, and it’s other hugely popular application is Office — so what’s happening with its lifecycle?

[Related story: Why are Windows XP users still clinging to the past?]

When is Microsoft Office dropped?

Microsoft Office has been around for decades — the first PC version launched in 1990 and the most recent (Office 2016) was released at the end of September.

Microsoft has obviously long since abandoned older versions of Office and next on the hit list is Office 2010. Released in June 2010, its ‘mainstream’ support comes to an end on October 12th this year — a five-year lifecycle is usual for all Microsoft software. That means unless any outstanding bugs affect its (or Windows’) security, they won’t be fixed after this date.

The clock then starts ticking for ‘extended’ support and, in another five years, that also ends. That means Microsoft then won’t issue updates of any kind for Office 2010 and it then joins Office 2007, Office 2003, Office XP, Office 97 and Office 95 in the halls of obsolete Microsoft Office suites.

Gone, but not forgotten

‘Obsolete’ doesn’t mean ‘useless’, of course, and anecdotal evidence suggests that Office users tend to stick with what they’ve got rather than rush to upgrade to the latest version — unless they’re Office 360 subscribers, that is.

And by ‘anecdotal’ we mean that this piece is being written on Office 2008 for Mac — and we’re sure many of you are still using something older. Office XP (from 2002) still installs and runs perfectly well with Windows 10, for example, but is it really a good idea to keep using Office software that’s so old?

The simple answer, as you might expect, is ‘no’.

Woord 2002 with Windows 10

Is an obsolete Office still safe?

Even though you might not miss or want the new features found in later (and still supported) versions of Microsoft Office, and your version of Office 2000 (or whatever) still works perfectly well, you’re putting your PC at risk by using it.

Security weaknesses and bugs in Office, just like in Windows, can be exploited by hackers in a wide range of ways. A modern web browser and up-to-date anti-malware software might be able to intercept many kinds of attacks, but they can still miss one that’s delivered via an infected Word document attached to an email. Word 2016 may stop it in its tracks, but Word 2000, which hasn’t been updated in anyway since 2009? Probably not.

[Related story: Seven easy tips to protect your PC from hackers and malware]

In fact Microsoft only fixed a serious security hole in Office 2007, 2010, 2013 in August, where “An attacker who successfully exploited the vulnerabilities could run arbitrary code in the context of the current user.”

In other words, someone could run a program on your PC without your permission, or knowledge — and that’s a very bad thing.

Microsoft Office security bulletin

Upgrade, switch or suffer the consequences

So while it’s easy to treat advice like this is just another way to persuade people to spend more money with Microsoft, the bottom line is simple. If your version of Office is no longer supported and updated, you’re putting your PC at risk by using it.

For now, that means if you’re still happily using Office 2007 and 2010, you can safely continue to do so until 2017 and 2020, respectively — just don’t expect any non-critical bugs to be fixed. Anyone using an older version of Office should seriously consider an upgrade, or switch to an alternative office suite than can still use Microsoft Office files.

Check out our article: Microsoft Office: Why are there so many different versions and do you really need to pay for it?

LibreOffice

If you’re still using an old version of Microsoft Office, why haven’t you upgraded or switched to a more up-to-date alternative? Let us know in the Comments.