The manufactured kerfuffle over HP’s decision to promote a few Windows 7 PCs on its online Home & Home Office Store is an attempt to stir up a fuss over something that every savvy business buyer knows already. Windows 7 doesn't need to make a comeback, because it never left.
In fact, it’s easy to find PCs running Windows 7. All you have to do is shop in the right channels.
This morning I conducted a thorough check of business-focused PC channels. As expected, I found a huge assortment of Windows 7 PCs available for purchase there.
As I noted yesterday, those Windows 7 PCs are a drop in the bucket at HP’s consumer-focused online store, which currently has a grand total of three Windows 7 desktops on offer, with 33 distinct Windows 8 and 8.1 desktop machines on offer.
On those sites, Windows 7 continues to be well represented. This isn’t a change from last year or a reaction to Windows 8. It’s business as usual.
When I checked last May, HP’s business side had 120 Windows 7 desktop and notebook PCs on offer, almost three times the number of Windows 8 PCs in the business store. Today, the total number of models is down slightly but the percentage is equally skewed.
Screen capture from HP Small and Medium Business site, taken 21-Jan-2014.
Dell isn’t quite as unbalanced, but you can still choose from more than 60 discrete Windows 7 options in the Desktops and All-in-Ones and Laptops and Ultrabooks sections. You'll even find high-end Windows 7 machines under the Alienware brand, traditionally aimed at gamers but certainly fit for business use.
Here’s the raw data.
Table: Which operating systems are available on Dell and HP business PCs?
Your options get even more interesting if you visit some of the big online sites that specialize in serving the commercial channel, businesses and educational institutions. HP and its other archival, China's Lenovo, sell extensively through commercial sites.
Take CDW, for example, one of the biggest business-focused resellers around. I went to CDW's Computers section this morning and searched for downgrade in the Desktop computers category. That produced 378 results, all with Windows 8 Pro licenses downgraded to Windows 7 Pro.
First on the CDW list is the HP Pro 3500, a solid if slightly staid desktop PC with a 3.2 GHz Core i5 (Ivy Bridge), 4GB of RAM, and Windows 7 Pro 64-bit.
If you want something beefier, you can get the EliteDesk 800 G1, with a Core i7 4770 (Haswell), also downgraded to Windows 7 Pro 64-bit.
In fact, at CDW 9 out of first 10 machines on the list of desktop PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled as a downgrade are from HP. Out of the top 20, 14 are from HP, with Lenovo getting 5 models and Acer getting a single mention.
These aren't crappy machines, either. In all, CDW has 69 configurations available with Core i7 CPUs and Windows 7 downgrades, including a nice-looking Lenovo small-footprint PC, the ThinkCentre M93p 10AB, which has 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD, Bluetooth 4.0, and a Windows 7 downgrade.
Even the consumer-friendly Newegg, a favorite of PC hobbyists and DIY system builders, has lots of choices available: Search for Windows 7 downgrade and you get a list of 27 desktop and notebook PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed, ranging in price from $398.00 all the way up to more than $3,900 for an HP EliteBook Mobile Workstation with a Haswell Core i7, 32 GB of RAM, twin 256 GB SSDs, and AMD FirePro graphics.
It's true that PC retailers aimed at consumers tend to push the newer, touch-enabled Windows 8 devices. But don't assume that means you can't track down a Windows 7 box. At the most consumery retailer of them all, Best Buy, you can still find PCs running Windows 7. When I searched at BestBuy.com in the Desktops and All-in-ones category, the filtering tool told me it has 369 Windows 8 machines to choose from, as well as 227 Windows 7 options, including choices from third-party sites that sell through Best Buy.
Personally, if I were going to buy a Windows 7 PC today I would look for one that includes a Windows 8 Pro license and has been downgraded to Windows 7 Pro by the OEM. That configuration gives you the flexibility to upgrade to Windows 8.1 (or, presumably, 8.2 or 8.3, if those versions arrive in the next year or two) for free. If you buy a PC with a Windows 7 license and decide later that you want to upgrade, you'll have to pay dearly for the privilege.
The bottom line: Windows 7 never went away. It continues to be widely available today, just as it was before Microsoft released Windows 8. Under Microsoft's normal sales lifecycle, OEMs would be prohibited from building and selling new PCs when the two-year anniversary of Windows 8 rolls around in October 2014. We'll see what happens then, however. I won't be surprised if Microsoft extends that date.