Report Warns Of Landfill Risk, When Microsoft Ends Windows 10 Support

The environmental cost caused by Microsoft’s ending of Windows 10 support in 2025, has been highlighted in new research.

Analyst house Canalys warned that while Microsoft’s Windows 11 will help support a struggling PC market as customers prepare for another refresh cycle – the ending of Windows 10 support could prevent hundreds of millions of devices from getting second lives, meaning that many operational machines are liable to end up in landfill.

It should be noted that earlier this month Microsoft had made a significant change to its support of older Windows operating systems, after they no longer receive the monthly security updates (aka Patch Tuesday).

Windows 11

For the first time Microsoft said it would offer consumers (not just businesses) paid security updates (dubbed ‘Extended Security Updates’) for Windows 10, when support officially ends in 2025.

But at this stage it is not clear how many consumers will be prepared to pay for extended security updates, and Microsoft has not disclosed the pricing for the extended support option.

Canalys meanwhile has said that Microsoft’s Windows 11 will help support a struggling PC market, but the termination of Windows 10 support could prevent hundreds of millions of devices from getting second lives, leaving many liable to end up in landfill.

The analyst noted that “at the end of a difficult year for the PC market, there is finally reason for optimism,” as it expects the PC market to return to growth of 8 percent in 2024 “as customers look to refresh the PCs of the pandemic era and new AI-capable devices emerge.”

And it said the availability of Windows 11 on newer PCs will also drive growth.

Upgrade problem

But Canalys highlighted that the hardware requirements for Windows 11 will prevent many existing PCs being upgraded to the new OS, and will prevent “the channel from refurbishing these viable PCs for their second lives.”

Microsoft had launched Windows 10 back in 2015, but now it is focused on its current OS, namely Windows 11, which was launched in October 2021.

Windows 11 was criticised at the time of release for not being an easy upgrade for existing Windows 10 users, due to the onerous system requirements to run the latest operating system, which may have hampered its uptake.

For example Windows 11 requires UEFI (which does the same job as BIOS) and the PC itself must also be secure boot capable (for which the motherboard will need a trusted module chip).

Other requirements for Windows 11 include at least 4GB of RAM, and a couple more processor cores – compared to Windows 10.

Unfortunately, these requirements (especially the first two) will force those with an older computer to purchase a new machine.

Landfill risk

And this inability to upgrade many PCs to Windows 11, does carry an environmental cost.

Canalys estimates that in the nearly two-year period until Microsoft’s official end-of-support date for Windows 10 (slated for 14 October 2025), roughly a fifth of devices will become e-waste due to incompatibility with the Windows 11 OS.

Canalys said this equates to 240 million PCs.

If these were all folded laptops, stacked one on top of another, they would make a pile 600km taller than the moon, the analyst house stated.

The estimated weight would be 480 million kilograms, equivalent to 320,000 cars.

Most of these 240 million PCs, if in good condition, could at least be recycled, but their incompatibility with the latest supported version of Windows massively reduces their value for refurbishing and reselling, Canalys stated.

Canalys said that realistically, landfill is still a common outcome for used PCs, regardless of the OS issue, but more sustainable ITAD (IT asset disposition) options have never been more abundant. It noted that the channel now has extensive and growing capabilities for PC refurbishment – the Canalys 2023 sustainability survey found that 39 percent of partners already have capabilities for refurbishing and reselling second-hand devices.

And it noted that many of the 240 million PCs will still be usable for years to come, but demand for devices no longer supported by Microsoft will be minimal – even companies with the tightest of IT budgets will be deterred by the lack of free and continued security updates, Canalys warned.

No charity option

Charitable donations of these discarded PCs could maximise their usable lifespans – but if the industry wants to support digital equity, this is not viable or socially sustainable, Canalys stated.

Giving second lives to these unsupported PCs is clearly the best option environmentally, but donating these devices will not advance the industry’s efforts to bridge the digital divide, the analyst noted.

Canalys noted Microsoft’s offer of Extended Security Updates for Windows 10, which will be available until October 2028 – albeit for a currently unspecified annual fee.

Canalys said that the cost of these security updates will likely be a barrier for many users, citing that the pricing plans for Windows 7’s extended support began at US$25 per PC for the first year of support, quadrupling to US$100 annually in the third and final year of Extended Security Updates.

“If Microsoft pursues a similar pricing structure for Windows 10’s extended support, the more cost-effective option will be migration to newer, Windows 11-capable PCs – forcing older PCs onto the scrapheap,” said the analyst house.

Canalys said that device and OS vendors have a responsibility to maximise device lifespans.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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