The end of life for Windows Phone 8 is on the horizon. While this doesn’t mean the end of Windows on mobile, it is classic Microsoft operating procedure — i.e., one carried out without too much attention to the impact it will have on users. Microsoft will presumably have unveiled at least one newer version of its mobile OS by the time Windows Phone 8 sunsets, although of course it hasn’t yet announced any such plans.

On its product lifecyle page, Microsoft says that it will cease support for Windows Phone 7.8 and Windows 8 within the next 18 months. Both forks of the operating system will cease to be supported by Microsoft in 2014. Windows Phone 7.8 support will end on Sept. 9, 2014 while Windows Phone 8 support will come July 8, 2014. 

According to Microsoft’s support page:

Microsoft will make updates available for the Operating System on your phone, including security updates, for a period of 18 months after the lifecycle start date. Distribution of the updates may be controlled by the mobile operator or the phone manufacturer from which you purchased your phone. Update availability will also vary by country, region, and hardware capabilities.

Windows Phone 7.8 is the final version of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system before it forked for Windows Phone 8. The 18-month support window these versions is fairly standard for a company like Microsoft that produces new iterations of its mobile operating systems every year or so.

By the time support for Windows 7.8/8 ceases, Microsoft will likely have issued one or two updates to the Windows Phone OS to replace the older versions. Although it’s also not clear whether Windows Phone 8 users will be able to upgrade to such as-yet-hypothetical future Windows Phone versions. Microsoft did, after all, pull the rug out from under Windows Phone 7 users in exactly this way.

Contrary to some reactions to this news, the end-of-life for 7.8/8 is not the death knell for Windows Phone. All it will mean will be the end of mainstream support for those operating system versions including security and user interface and experience features. Apple and Google operate in similar functions as older versions of iOS and Android (like Android 2.1 Éclair or 2.2 Froyo or iOS 4.0) tend not to see any critical updates after a year-and-a-half or so. 

End-of-life cycle for these versions of Windows Phone will only affect a small percentage of global smartphone users. Microsoft’s mobile operating system has struggled for mainstream acceptance and remains far behind Apple and Google in adoption. According to research analytics firm comScore, Microsoft had 3.1% of total U.S. smartphone subscribers as of Jan. 2013. 

Top photo: Nokia Lumia 920 by Dan Rowinski

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