If you’re still mourning the demise of Windows XP after Microsoft ended support for the vintage operating system in April this year, brace yourself for more bad news — Windows 7 is next on the hit list. 

Microsoft stopped selling licences — essentially the product keys needed to activate it — for the most popular version of Windows on October 31, which is the first step in winding it down in the wake of Windows 8.

Windows 7 will still be supported and updated until January 2020, so there’s no need to worry about the operating system becoming obsolete just yet, but the Halloween deadline does have some important implications for current users.

Windows lifecycle

 

What does this mean for me?

The most signification change is that PC manufacturers won’t be able to buy any more Windows 7 licences from Microsoft, so once their stock runs out, they’ll only be able to supply new PCs with Windows 8.1 pre-installed. Dell has already run out of licences, for example, and it won’t be long before other manufacturers follow suit.

It’s the same story with shops selling boxed copies of Windows 7 - once the old stock has gone, there’ll be no more to replace it.

This deadline does only apply to the Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate editions of Windows 7. The Professional edition will still be around for another year or so if you’re prepared to track it down. It’s also likely that installation discs for all versions of Windows 7 will still be on sale for some time. After all, copies of Windows Vista can still be found online, even though Microsoft stopped selling it in 2010.

Windows 7 box in hand

 

Why is Microsoft winding down Windows 7?

Windows 7 is still by far the most popular version of Windows, based on PC installations. Recent figures peg it as being installed on 53% of PCs, with Windows XP still clinging on at 17%. Windows 8 and 8.1 are at 10.9% and 5.9%, respectively, while Windows Vista powers a mere 2.8% of computers.

So given that Windows 7 is so popular, why is Microsoft putting it out to pasture? The simple answer is that supporting an old operating system takes time and money. With Windows 8 now two years old and its successor, Windows 10 , already in the works, Microsoft simply can’t afford to worry too much about an operating system it launched in 2009 - and offering updates until 2020 is already a big commitment.

Technology also moves on apace and whatever PC hardware Windows 7 was designed to work on five years ago is now old hat, even if it still works perfectly. Although it wasn’t exactly well implemented, Windows 8 was a bold attempt to embrace the large multi-touch displays that didn’t exist when Windows 7 was launched and Windows 10 (there is no Windows 9, by the way) will support hardware many people aren’t even aware of yet.

 

Welcome to Windows 10

Windows 10 is already available as a ‘technical preview’ (which is not even as far advanced as a beta) that anyone can take for a test drive. From what we’ve seen of it so far, it addresses many of the complaints with Windows 8 by reverting to a more Windows 7-like design. And yes, the Start menu is back.

[Related article: Windows 10 everything you need to know]

Scheduled for launch next year, Windows 10 looks like a safe bet for anyone who’s so far resisted upgrading to Windows 8. So since Windows 7 isn’t going anywhere for another few years, it’s sensible to stick with it for the foreseeable future until you want, or need, to upgrade — which means you can pretend Windows 8 never happened. 

Windows 10 Start menu

If you do fancy putting Windows 10 through its paces, look out for our guide on how to install it on your main PC without affecting your current version of Windows — it’s much easier than you think.