It seems businesses will be able to order new PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled, rather than Windows 8, for a bit longer than we previously thought – although we don't yet know for just how long.
According to an update to Microsoft's lifecycle policy first spotted by Redmond-watcher Mary Jo Foley on Friday, the date when OEMs must stop selling PCs with Windows 7 Professional preinstalled is "not yet established."
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In December, Redmond published a cutoff date of October 30, 2014 for all versions of Windows 7. But it recanted a few days later, saying the announcement was in error and that the actual date was still "TBD."
On Friday, the lifecycle website was updated to indicate that hardware makers must indeed stop preinstalling Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, and Windows 7 Ultimate on new PCs on October 31, 2014 – just one day later than was previously announced. So if you're in the market for a new consumer PC and you don't want Windows 8, you'd better move before the end of the year.
No stop date was given for Windows 7 Professional, however, and a note at the bottom of the page says that Microsoft will give one year's notice before the eventual expiry date arrives – meaning new Windows 7 Professional PCs will be available through business sales channels through February 15, 2015, at the very earliest.
It's an interesting turn of events, since a separate Microsoft website lists the date that mainstream support for all versions of Windows 7 will end as January 13, 2015. Customers who want it supported longer will have to pay extra.
That could very well change, of course. According to web analytics firm Net Applications, Windows 7 is easily Microsoft's most widely installed OS, with a market share of 47.49 per cent of all desktop PCs.
Customers still seem to want it, too – enough so that HP recently advertised that it would resume shipping PCs with either the Home or Pro versions of Windows 7 preinstalled "by popular demand."
And as much as Microsoft would like to get its corporate customers on board Windows 8, its most pressing challenge is to migrate them away from Windows XP, a 2001-vintage version that still commands 29.23 per cent of the OS market.
Mainstream support for Windows XP ended in 2009, and its for-pay extended support period is due to expire on April 8 of this year. Yet many enterprise customers are still only midway in the process of upgrading to a new version, which for many of them means Windows 7.
None of this must sit well with Redmond, which has made "rapid cadence" the new mantra for its software teams. Windows 8.1 is just four months old, yet Microsoft plans to ship a significant update to it this spring, followed by a major release next year that some say will actually be called Windows 9.
If the last part is true, it means that all of the customers who are only now upgrading their Windows XP systems to Windows 7 will be stuck about three major versions behind, come 2015 – just like they are now. ®