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“If you don’t want to upgrade Windows 8, just don’t upgrade.”

There’s a reason Microsoft supports its operating system releases for 10 full years. They know that you might have any number of reasons to skip a Windows release. Maybe it’s incompatible with a business-critical app, maybe you want to align software upgrades with your hardware purchase cycle, maybe you’re just cheap. Doesn’t matter.

The copy of Windows 7 you’re running today will not stop working when Windows 8 comes out. It will continue to be supported for an additional seven years, with mainstream support until January 2015 and extended support until 2020.

During that time, Microsoft will probably release Windows 9 and Windows 10 and be well on the way to Windows 11. Yes, thanks to Microsoft’s extended support lifecycle you will probably be able to upgrade from Windows 7 directly to Windows 11.

At the moment, Microsoft is supporting four releases of desktop Windows. For reference, here are the end-of-support dates for all currently supported Windows versions:

  • Windows XP SP3: April 8, 2014
  • Windows Vista SP2: April 11, 2017
  • Windows 7 SP1: January 14, 2020
  • Windows 8: January 10, 2023

(In case you’re wondering, yes, Microsoft has a formal definition of “supported.”)

Furthermore, you’ll still be able to buy Windows 7 PCs for at least two more years. Microsoft’s sales lifecycle for Windows (which is different from its support lifecycle) specifies that retailers will be able to sell the boxed version of Windows 7 until at least October 25. 2013, and OEMs can sell PCs with Windows 7 pre-loaded until October 25, 2014.

If Windows 8 gets any pushback from consumers and small businesses, we could see big OEMs continuing to offer Windows 7 as an option on its non-touch-enabled PCs for two more years, with Windows 8 as the sole option for tablets and touch-enabled PCs.

And on top of all that, you and your business have downgrade rights. Assuming that Windows 8 Professional incorporates license terms similar to those of its predecessors, it will include the right to downgrade to Windows 7 Professional. When you buy a new PC with Windows 8 Professional installed,  you can legally replace it with a copy of Windows 7 Professional. Update: Windows 8 Pro, when purchased on a new PC, will indeed include downgrade rights. See this post: How the new Windows 8 license terms affect you.

Because I haven’t seen the retail license agreement for Windows 8 yet, I’ll hold off on posting any detailed strategies for dealing with the transition. Those legal terms will be public when Microsoft releases Windows 8 to its partners and TechNet and MSDN subscribers in a few weeks. You can bet I’ll be looking carefully at those terms in the new license.

So relax. You have at least eight years left before you need to leave the comfort of the Windows 7 desktop and say goodbye to the Start menu.

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