XP fans might finally have to get over it. Their favorite Windows operating system is on its deathbed. Oh, die-hards can keep running XP, but that's just asking for trouble. If you can't bring yourself to give up on Windows -- and you can't stand Windows 8.x -- I've suggested that you stick with Windows 7. So guess what. Microsoft is going to let you keep buying new business PCs with Windows 7 Professional installed until at least February 2015, and it may be longer -- a lot longer.
Consumer PCs are another matter. New PCs with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium or Ultimate will no longer be available after Oct. 31, 2014. Or, will they?
Hewlett-Packard recently made headlines with an online promotion that discounts Windows 7 consumer PCs by $150, saying the four-year-old operating system was "back by popular demand."
More than a month later, in late February, HP is selling new consumer PCs with Windows 7 at from $70 to $200 off. One model has sold out, suggesting that HP isn't just talking a good game. Windows 7 is still popular.
The numbers back that up. NetMarketShare's January 2013 desktop operating system statistics has Windows 7 as the single largest OS, at 47.49% of the installed base, followed by XP, at 29.23%, and Windows 8 and 8.1 combined, at a pathetic 10.58%. Want to know what's even sadder about those numbers if you're Microsoft? XP actually increased its share by a quarter of a percentage point compared to December 2012!
The lesson we can take from this is that Windows 8 is going nowhere. Maybe Windows 9 can save Microsoft's bacon. I doubt it. Maybe the next revision to the Windows 8 interface will make people happy. I can't see it. Windows 8, like Vista before it, now has a lousy reputation. I don't think any amount of lipstick on this pig will make anyone want it.
If Microsoft really wants to bring back the paying customers, it needs to bring back an operating system that everyone likes and wants. It needs to extend Windows 7's life not just for businesses, but for consumers as well.
As Gartner analyst Michael Silver said in October 2013, "There's a good chance that enterprises will stay on Windows 7 as long as possible." And considering how low home users' Windows 8.x adoption rate has been -- even though consumers can't easily find Windows 7 systems at their local electronics stores -- it looks to me as if they're also sticking to Windows 7 like glue.
For Microsoft, this has several downsides, of course. It's too late to convince users that its newest operating system is hot and they have to have it. No, no. That boat, the Windows 8 Titanic, has already sailed -- and sunk. For Microsoft, with no new success to build on, it's all about regrouping now and not losing ground to Chromebooks or even Android-based PCs.
Sure, retreating to Windows 7 won't do a thing for Windows on tablets and smartphones. I know that was the great hope with Windows 8/Metro, but Microsoft has to wake up and smell the coffee: It's already lost that battle. For the next few years, mobile devices belong to Google Android and Apple iOS.
Microsoft could soften that blow by starting to ship Office on iPads and Android tablets. I'm sure Microsoft could make some money with that move -- though not as much as some people think. I believe Google Docs, QuickOffice and Zoho Office Suite are poised to make reliance on Microsoft Office a thing of the past.
Microsoft has always paid attention to the bottom line, so let's lay it down: The one surefire way I see Microsoft continuing to be a vital player in end-user computing is on the desktop with Windows 7. It has already started down this path. Certainly it's not a path of glory, but it will be profitable. And, at day's end, that's what it's all about.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at email@example.com.