Microsoft has quietly ended a reprieve for Windows 7 Professional, telling computer makers that they must stop building new PCs with the operating system in 12 months.
The new deadline of Oct. 31, 2016, was added to the Windows lifecycle fact sheet some time between late Thursday and mid-day Saturday, according to search caches. After the deadline, OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) will be barred from pre-loading Windows 7 Professional on new systems, and will be able to sell only those that remain in their stocks.
The same date will apply to Windows 8.1-powered devices -- all versions, including Windows 8.1 Pro -- while those with Windows 8 were slapped with an even earlier deadline of June 30, 2016. With all three older OSes out of bounds to OEMs come next fall, the only Windows PCs rolling off factory lines will be those with Windows 10.
Microsoft ended retail sales of Windows 8 a year ago, and those of Windows 8.1 last month, another signal that Microsoft is banking on Windows 10, and only Windows 10.
The original end-of-sales deadline for Windows 7 Professional was to be Oct. 31, 2014 -- two years after the launch of Windows 8 -- but in early 2014 Microsoft first posted that date, then retracted it, then restored it but only for consumer systems. It left open the cut-off for Windows 7 Professional, saying it would give a one-year warning before it demanded that OEMs stop selling PCs with the edition.
It just gave that notice.
By the time Oct. 31, 2016 comes and goes, Microsoft will have extended Windows 7 Professional's OEM lifespan by two years, a concession to the rejection of Windows 8 and 8.1 in business.
Organizations with enterprise licensing agreements and Software Assurance -- the latter is an annuity-style program that provides additional rights -- will still be able to purchase new PCs after the deadline, then downgrade the OS from the already-installed Windows 10 to Windows 7 if they want to keep using the older edition.
The downside of the OEM extension is that Windows 7 will soon face a hard-and-fast deadline of a different sort: Microsoft will issue the last security updates for it on Jan. 14, 2020, or just over three years after the final new PCs are built with the operating system.
Even more than half-way through its decade of support, Windows 7 remains the most popular version of Windows. According to analytics vendor Net Applications, Windows 7 accounted for nearly 62% of all copies of Windows in use during October, far more than Windows XP (with 13%), Windows 8/8.1 (15%) and Windows 10 (9%) combined.