Microsoft is urging all Windows 8 users to upgrade as official support for the three-year-old operating system has come to an end.

This will force a jump to Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 in order to keep receiving security updates and stay protected against malware, spyware and viruses.

The upgrade is available free of charge and will extend support to 10 January 2023.

Microsoft usually provides 10 years of extended software support, but is cutting this short for Windows 8 as it views 8.1 to be a necessary ‘service pack' that contains vital OS enhancements.

"Unlike service packs that are typically just a collection of fixes, Windows 8.1 has new features and enhancements. We designed Windows 8.1 to give customers an ability to deploy this update in a manner that is similar to how customers deploy service packs, therefore we are applying the existing service pack support policy to Windows 8.1," the company said.

Microsoft's policy is to end support for earlier OS versions two years after a service pack is released, meaning that those who want to stay secure have no choice but to make the move.

"Windows 8.1 does not change any hardware requirements compared with Windows 8 or Windows 7, and existing Windows Store apps will work with Windows 8.1," notes the official FAQ.

"The update has little to no impact on existing desktop apps and there is no direct software cost because business customers with Software Assurance licensing will receive Windows 8.1 as a free update.

"For organisations running legacy applications that need to be upgraded, there are tools to manage deployment in order to help mitigate cost and impact."

Windows 8 was released in 2012 and had a strong focus on touch-enabled features, but the tiled layout generated criticism from users of previous versions.