Microsoft has quietly updated its Windows Lifecycle Fact Sheet page, adding October 31, 2016 as the last date on which manufacturers can sell PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled.
Normally, Microsoft's policy is to set the end-of-sales date for a specific Windows version two years after the launch of the version of Windows that succeeds it. Under that policy, sales of Windows 7 PCs should have ended in late October of 2014, two years after the launch of Windows 8.
But the tepid response of the market to Windows 8 led Microsoft to give PC makers a reprieve, allowing them to continue selling PCs with Windows 7 Pro installed. At the time, the company promised it would give a year's notice before changing that policy.
That time's up, apparently. PCs with Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 can continue to be sold until October 31, 2016. After that date, businesses will need to use downgrade rights or exercise Software Assurance rights with volume license agreements to run the old version on new hardware.
Ironically, the end-of-sales date for Windows 8 PCs will arrive even sooner, on June 30, 2016.
For an explanation of how the new sales lifecycle dates affect the PC market, see "What the Windows 7 Pro sales lifecycle changes mean to consumers and business buyers."
The change represents a vote of confidence from Microsoft management that businesses are willing to migrate from Windows 7 to Windows 10. It also means they're betting that consumer acceptance of the newest OS release will be solidly positive.
(It's worth noting here that the support lifecycle for Windows 7 isn't changed. All editions of Windows 7 will continue to receive security updates throughout the Extended Support period, which ends on January 14, 2020. Windows 8.1 is still in mainstream support. The Extended Support period begins on January 9, 2018 and runs through January 10, 2023, when Windows 8.1 will no longer be supported.)
The bottom line: One year from today, you'll still be able to find new PCs running Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, but only in existing inventory. And Windows 7 PCs will become increasingly hard to find as that inventory vanishes from warehouses, because OEMs won't be allowed to build new consumer and business PCs for the retail channel with any version except Windows 10 preinstalled.