As the second half 2014 rolls in, Microsoft is stepping up its warnings for approaching support deadlines for some of its key products, including Windows 7.

A few definitions worth knowing: Mainstream support is the typically five-year period when Microsoft provides free patches and fixes, including but not limited to security updates, for its products. When a product exits the mainstream support phase, Microsoft continues to provide a period (also often five years) of extended support, which means users get free security fixes but other types of updates are paid and require specific licensing deals.

"End of support" means there will be no more fixes or patches -- paid or free, security or non-security -- coming for specific products. (There are some temporary work-arounds, as Windows XP users have discovered, but as a general rule, end of support means, for most intents and purposes, the end.)

Mainstream, free support is ending on January 13 for a number of major Microsoft products, including all versions of Windows 7 (Enterprise, Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate and Starter). Extended support for Windows 7 lasts until January 14, 2020, so users can expect to continue to receive free security updates, but not feature updates, for Windows 7 until that point. For those running Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 applied, the end of mainstream and extended support dates are the same -- January 13, 2015 and January 14, 2020, respectively -- given there is no Windows 7 SP2.

Some industry watchers have speculated that Microsoft will end up pushing out Windows 7's support dates the way the company did for XP, given Windows 7's popularity and pervasiveness, but so far, there's been no word from Microsoft officials that this is the plan.

Mainstream support also ends on January 13 for all versions of Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2 and all editions of Windows Storage Server 2008. Mainstream support for Dynamics C5 2010, NAV 2009 and NAV 2009 R2 ends on January 13, as well.

Complete end of support for Windows Server 2003 is approaching next year, as well. On July 14, Microsoft's extended support period for that product cuts off, which means the company won't be issuing patches, updates or fixes of any kind for that operating system (unless users have pricey Custom Support Agreements in place). A number of small businesses are still running Windows Server 2003. Microsoft officials are hoping to convince them to move to Windows Server 2012 R2 and/or Azure.