What's the difference between Windows mainstream support and extended support?

What does it mean when Microsoft says it won't support your version of Windows any more? Find out the difference between mainstream and extended support, and how it's changed with Windows 10.

In the ever-changing world of high-tech gadgets and gizmos, a whole load of jargon is thrown our way that many of us don’t necessarily understand.

Here we explain the difference between mainstream support and extended support, something which affects Windows operating systems.

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What is the difference between Windows mainstream support and extended support?

Mainstream support and extended support define the amount of time Microsoft gives for its Windows operating systems – essentially, expiration dates.

When your computer’s operating system is within the mainstream support period, it means Microsoft is still taking care of that version. By taking care, we mean providing security updates for any bugs that emerge, releasing design changes and warranty claims, for example.

Microsoft usually ends mainstream support five years after the release of an operating system, which then pushes it into extended support. This period usually runs for another five years too, but you get less support. Essentially it means the company stops adding new features and ends complimentary support for that version of Windows. But it still provides bug fixes and patches.

This applies to Microsoft’s business, developer and desktop operating system products.

This chart shows where operating systems from Windows XP up to Windows 10 stand. Follow the links for details of Microsoft's product lifecycle policy (dates in red indicate an expired support deadline):

Microsoft Windows support lifecycle end dates
Windows operating system Latest update or service pack End of mainstream support End of extended support
Windows XP Service Pack 3 14 April 2009 8 April 2014
Windows Vista Service Pack 2 10 April 2012 11 April 2017
Windows 7 Service Pack 1 13 January 2015 14 January 2020
Windows 8 Windows 8.1 9 January 2018 10 January 2023
Windows 10 Service updates provided every March and September Refer to Microsoft Product Lifecycle database 14 October 2025

 

Consult Microsoft's own support lifecycle fact sheet for more.

Of course things get more serious when support ends – the main issue being no more security updates. XP is a prime example of an operating system that has reached its end – yet many people still use it, putting their security at risk.

Windows 10 saw Microsoft move to the Modern Lifecycle Policy. This provides continuous service and support to the end of the product's life, with updates up to twice a year instead of the Service Packs provided in earlier operating systems. 

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