Microsoft execs think, or so I'm told, that they made a mistake in extending the period of Extended Support for Windows XP by two years. I completely agree and thought so at the time. Windows XP was and remains a plague that needs to be extinguished.
The problem they faced was the ice-cold reaction of customers to Windows Vista. They face a somewhat similar problem now with the success of Windows 7 and the poor reception of Windows 8.
You might think that the right thing to do would be to extend support for Windows 7 the way they did with Windows XP. But you would be wrong, and Microsoft has a better option. Extend Mainstream Support without extending Extended Support, at least for Windows 7 Pro.
Some important dates are approaching: After October 31 Microsoft will no longer provide its PC partners or systems builders with copies of Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium and/or Ultimate to preinstall on new PCs. All preloaded sales of those operating systems after October will be inventory depletion. But OEM sales of Windows 7 Professional into the channel may continue.
We know from what Microsoft has said officially on the Windows lifecycle fact sheet that "Microsoft will provide one year of notice prior to the end of sale date" of Windows 7 Pro. They have not yet provided such notice, meaning that OEM sales of Windows 7 Pro will continue until at least October 28, 2015.
And yet, as the table above from that same Windows lifecycle fact sheet shows, Mainstream support for Windows 7, including Windows 7 Pro, ends on January 13, 2015.
Would Microsoft continue to sell a product beyond its period of mainstream support? Perhaps, but it seems a bit odd and makes me wonder about the meaning and value of "Mainstream Support."
The end of Mainstream Support, as Ed Bott explains here, means that Microsoft will no longer be providing new features or design changes or taking requests for them; fixing non-security bugs; providing no-charge incident support; or servicing warranty claims.
Ending some of these services for Windows 7 past January is reasonable. I'm sure they're already done with new features. But it would be a mistake for Microsoft to end non-security updates and warranty claims for a product which is still being sold. There are too many potential non-security bugs that buyers might reasonably expect to be fixed. For examples of recent non-security updates to Windows 7 (including one scheduled for next week) see the Description of Software Update Services and Windows Server Update Services changes in content for 2014.
There is one other possibility: Microsoft could let Mainstream Support end and yet continue to provide the more important services it promises. Not only have they done this before, they're doing it next week. Next week's update described in the non-security updates page I linked to just above will also be provided for Windows Vista, Mainstream Support for which ended on April 10, 2012. A formal extension would be a more honest approach.
Job #1 at the Windows group these days has to be getting Windows 10 stable and out quickly. On the assumption, and based on my own evaluation I think it's a good one, that Windows 10 will be well-received, the company can reasonably expect customers to move from Windows 7 to Windows 10 (or whatever comes after that) by the end of the Extended Support period for Windows 7.
On the current schedule, Extended Support for Windows 7, and with it security updates, will end on January 14, 2020, five years past the end of Mainstream Support. (Incidentally, dates like this from Microsoft are always Tuesdays, and likely the second Tuesday of the month.) There's no reason to fear that an extension of Mainstream Support will cause customers to avoid Windows 10 and later for long; the January 14, 2020 is a clear signal.
Unless Microsoft wants to continue selling a product that is past the end of Mainstream Support, they will have to extend that period. But January 14, 2020 is far more than enough time to expect customers to move on beyond Windows 7, especially as system requirements have not changed.
Don't look for Microsoft to repeat the same mistake they made with Windows XP. There are easier ways to address the situation.