I've heard from several people who are concerned they won't be able to find new PCs with Windows 7 this holiday season. Businesses planning on buying new PCs may have money allocated for the machines, but there's not nearly enough in the coffers to train the troops in the care and feeding of the new dual-faced operating system as well.
For those people, I have some good news and some sorta good news.
Back in July 2010, Brandon LeBlanc on the Windows Team Blog had some words of cheer. "In the interest of providing more consistency and predictability with how we manage the Windows lifecycle," LeBlanc said, "we are confirming our current policy of allowing retailers to sell the boxed version of the previous OS for up to 1 year after release of a new OS, and that OEMs can sell PCs with the previous OS pre-loaded for up to 2 years after, the launch date of the new OS."
LeBlanc went on to say, "This lifecycle policy has been in effect since before the launch of Windows 7, and it has very little impact on most customers, as many retailers and OEMs have already discontinued sales of Windows Vista in favor of Windows 7. But it does ensure that our OEM and retail partners can discontinue sales of earlier versions of Windows within a predictable timeline."
Times have changed a bit in the three years since Windows 7 launched. Back then, at least in my experience, few people wanted to buy Vista machines once Win7 was available. This time around, I think we're going to see a substantial demand for new PCs running Windows 7 -- at least retail demand through the holiday season and possibly for quite some time beyond.
While there's no guarantee Microsoft will extend this policy to Windows 8, it's been around a long time. The upshot: Unless Microsoft changes its long-standing policy, retailers will be able to offer new PCs with Windows 7 installed until Oct. 26, 2014. They aren't required to offer new PCs with Windows 7, but it seems a good bet that many of them will.
It's also nice to know that if this policy is continued, retailers will be able to sell boxed copies of Windows 7 until Oct. 26, 2013.
If the policy stays in place until October 2014, hardware manufacturers will then have to switch to a different operating system for their new PCs; Windows 7 will no longer be an option. Consider: It's entirely possible Windows 9 will be out by then.
The sorta good news goes like this. In the same blog, LeBlanc said, "OEM versions of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate will continue to include downgrade rights to the similar versions of Windows Vista or Windows XP Professional. Going forward, businesses can continue to purchase new PCs and utilize end user downgrade rights to Windows XP or Windows Vista until they are ready to use Windows 7. Enabling such rights throughout the Windows 7 lifecycle will make it easier for customers as they plan deployments to Windows 7."
In other words, if you buy a new machine with Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate, you can downgrade it yourself. The mechanics of using the downgrade rights is a bit hairy, as documented on this OEM Licensing page, but it can be done. Note that Windows 7 Home Premium is not included in this offer.
If Microsoft decides to extend that offer, mutatis mutandis, to Windows 8, companies buying new Windows 8 Pro machines will be able to downgrade to Windows 7 Professional, no problem, no additional cost. Those who buy new PCs with plain Windows 8 wouldn't have the same rights to change their PCs to Windows 7. It isn't clear if Microsoft will also allow downgrade rights to XP. I'm sure some of you are concerned about that -- certainly a desperate move -- even though Microsoft is discontinuing extended support for XP (including security patches) in April 2014.
I have a feeling Windows 7 is going to be around for a long time.
This story, "Worried you'll be forced to buy Windows 8? Relax!," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.