Windows 7 isn't going away, but it'll cost more

If you heard that OEMs like Lenovo, Dell, and HP will stop selling Windows 7 machines at the end of the week, you heard wrong

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Those breathless headlines you've seen are all wet. Windows 7 will continue to be available on new PCs and in retail packaging for at least another year and likely much longer. You may have to spend an extra 10 or 20 bucks to get a new Windows 7 machine starting next week, but the five-year-old stalwart isn't going anywhere. Here are the facts.

On Oct. 31, Microsoft will stop selling OEMs licenses that allow them to sell new PCs with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, or Ultimate pre-installed. Windows 7 Professional isn't affected, and Microsoft has committed to giving one year advance notice prior to the end of OEM license sales for Pro. OEMs are allowed to sell out the stock they have on hand, but aren't given new Home or Ultimate licenses.

The net effect: You can expect the price of Windows 7 Home Premium machines to gradually rise to the level of similar Windows 7 Pro machines. (Nobody with half a clue buys Home Basic or Ultimate.) Once the Home Premium machines run out -- which could take a while -- the OEMs will simply swap in Windows 7 Pro.

Retailers aren't trying to rush the last Windows 7 machines out the door, and they aren't discounting them to beat an imaginary Friday deadline. They're just taking advantage of a widespread misconception to sell more of them.

Many OEMs now offer Windows 7 Pro pre-installed on machines that are, in fact, licensed for Windows 8.1 Pro. That's a Microsoft-endorsed "downgrade" path. The OEM gets hit for a Win 8.1 Pro license, but all you ever see is Win7 Pro.

Dell ran a great "Windows 7 for the win" ad campaign over the weekend -- Gregg Keizer has details in his Computerworld blog -- that offered discounts of up to 30 percent on PCs with Windows 7 Home Premium pre-installed.

The irony is that Dell is currently tacking a $50 premium on some of its "Consumer" Windows 7 machines, for those who want that OS instead of Windows 8.1. Compare, for example, the standard i7-based Inspiron 15 5000 Series, which sells for $800 in the Windows 8.1 version, but goes for $850 in the Windows 7 Home Premium version. The machines are identical, but Windows 7 costs $50 more.

Poke around the Dell site, and you'll see you can buy a slightly less capable i5-based Inspiron 15 5000 on Dell's "Business" side -- with Windows 7 Pro -- for $650. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find that the $650 model is, in fact, a "downgraded" Windows 8.1 Pro machine.

We're going to see a lot of that. If you're looking for a Windows 7 machine, you may have to check out the "Business" computers, but Windows 7 isn't going anywhere.

Right now, I count five Windows 7 Pro consumer desktops on the Dell site and 16 laptops. On the business side, I see 148 Windows 7 Pro desktops and 94 laptops/ultrabooks.

Don't be stampeded by the silly headlines. Windows 7 isn't going anywhere.