Microsoft seems to alternately release a brilliant major version of Windows followed by a brain-dead version. Windows 95 was good, Windows ME bad, Windows XP good, Windows Vista bad, Windows 7 good, and Windows 8 bad.
The first preview version of the next major version of Windows, the world’s most popular personal computer operating system, is scheduled for release to developers on September 30, 2014.
That release is codenamed “Threshold,” but most people expect it to be called Windows 9 when it’s released to consumers with new computers or as an upgrade to existing computers, which should happen sometime in 2015, perhaps in the fall.
It’s not clear whether Windows 9 will be brilliant or brain-dead. But it does appear that it will bring back the much-clamored-for Start menu. What’s not yet known is if it will continue to sacrifice the needs of PC users for the purpose of trying to sell more Windows tablets and smartphones, like Windows 8 did.
The failure of Windows 8 to meet the needs of PC users is the reason it has failed in the marketplace and has been nearly universally condemned by reviewers in the computer press. It’s also a key contributing factor to the relative decline of Windows PC sales by PC manufacturers, dragging other companies down. Corporate, government, and other organizational buyers in particular have stayed away in droves, sticking with Windows 7 and earlier operating systems.
Organizations typically don’t like Windows 8 because of the costs associated with its implementation, particularly training users how to use it. Consumers don’t like it because of its dual nature that combines desktop and touch-friendly interfaces, forcing you to switch between the two, with it often not being clear where to go for specific features.
Microsoft, however, forced the hand of many organizational buyers when it discontinued support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. This means that Microsoft stopped developing and making available security and other updates, which makes it riskier to continue using Windows XP computers while connected to the Internet.
But organizational buyers haven’t migrated to Windows 8. When they need to buy new PCs, most are buying machines that still come with Windows 7. Consumers don’t have it as easy. If you walk into a consumer electronics store such as Best Buy, a discount retailer such as Target, or an independent computer store, you’ll likely find Windows PCs running only Windows 8.
You may be able, however, to special order a Windows 7 machine from a retail store. Or you can buy one online.
It’s generally not a good idea to buy a Windows 8 machine and attempt to “downgrade” it to Windows 7. Most PC manufacturers don’t support such changes, so you’d be on your own. Microsoft provides downgrade rights only if you have a Windows 8 PC that’s running Windows 8 Pro, which is the version designed for businesses.
Also, you may need to buy a new, unused copy of Windows 7, though some users have reported success using other techniques. You will need a Windows 7 product key. You may experience glitches with wireless adapters, video cards, and other hardware that are supported by Windows 8 but that may not be supported by Windows 7. Alternately, there are various ways you can make Windows 8 act more like Windows 7, though they take time to set up.
Generally, if you want Windows 7, it’s easier to buy a machine that comes preinstalled with it. I just bought a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop over the Internet on Amazon for $390, including shipping. It weighs 5.2 pounds, runs an AMD 2.9 gigahertz processor, and comes with a 15.6-inch monitor, 4 gigabytes of RAM, a 320-gigabyte hard drive, and Windows 7 Pro. It’s not the lightest, fastest, or most capacious laptop on the market by a long shot, but it meets my needs.
Other people have reported similar experiences. The websites of Best Buy and Newegg are other good choices.
Microsoft is trying to put the brakes on the sale of Windows 7 in other ways as well. The end-of-sales date for computers with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate is October 31, 2014. After that, the only Windows 7 choice generally available will be business-focused laptops and desktops running Windows 7 Pro. Though more expensive, it isn’t a bad choice for home PCs.
All of these shenanigans should be largely irrelevant by this time next year if Microsoft repeats its past performance and puts out a brilliant Windows 9.
Reid Goldsborough is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania.