Microsoft wants a do-over -- or three

Redmond backtracks on Windows 7, rolls out more predictably botched patches, and hints at a possible return of the Windows Start button

It's déjà vu all over again, as the folks in Redmond commit an ever-lengthening series of do-overs. So if reading tea leaves to predict Microsoft's next CEO doesn't appeal and retrospective homages to Steve Ballmer don't amuse, there's now the spectacle of Microsoft starring in its own private "Groundhog Day." 

My bad

Last week Microsoft posted on its website that retail sales of Windows 7 had ended and that Oct. 30, 2014, is the last day it would sell Windows 7 preinstalled on PCs. Turns out this is not the deadline you're looking for. Microsoft has backtracked on its Windows 7 demise date -- without actually clarifying what lies ahead. According to the company's statement:

We have yet to determine the end of sales date for PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled. The October 30, 2014 date that posted to the Windows Lifecycle page globally last week was done so in error. We have since updated the website to note the correct information; however, some non-English language pages may take longer to revert to correctly reflect that the end of sales date is "to be determined." We apologize for any confusion this may have caused our customers.

Just to be perfectly clear: Nothing's decided, and Microsoft hopes you're not confused. The new end-of-sales dates could be sooner -- or later. Or, as Computerworld's Gregg Keizer writes, "It's possible that Microsoft will still tell OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to stop selling Windows 7 PCs in just under 11 months, but did not want to publicize the date now."

But rest easy. Even if Microsoft ends sales next year, there are still workarounds available for customers looking to score a copy of Windows 7.

Separate but equal

Ballmer's not gone yet, but it seems he's already being repudiated. Tony Myerson, executive VP of operating systems, hinted this week that Microsoft may revert to separate release schedules for consumer and business versions of Windows. If Myerson's comments come to fruition, it will mark "a return to a practice last used in the early years of this century, when Microsoft delivered new operating systems to the company's consumer and commercial customers on different schedules."

Just last year Microsoft accelerated its development and release schedule for Windows, delivering Windows 8.1 a year after the launch of its predecessor. However, analysts say enterprises are uncomfortable with that pace. "Businesses as a rule are much more conservative about upgrading their machines' operating systems than are consumers: The former must spend thousands, even millions, to migrate from one version to another, and must test the compatibility of in-house and mission-critical applications, then rewrite them if they don't work."

But in October, when an analyst at a Gartner-sponsored conference noted enterprises' issues with the accelerated delivery cycle, Ballmer dismissed those concerns, shaking his head. "Let me push back," said Ballmer, "and say, 'Not really.'"

Myerson's hint of separate release trains may be a rejection of Ballmer's contention.

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