Microsoft pushes Windows 7 and 8 aside

On Halloween, Microsoft (MSFT) put a stake through the heart of Windows 7 and 8 retail sales. That means the packaged software in stores will all be Windows 8.1. Windows-based PCs and notebooks can come with either Windows 8.1, Windows 8, or Windows 7 Professional, depending on what the hardware manufacturers decide to support.

With Windows 10 on the horizon, the move shows how quickly Microsoft has wanted to put behind the miscalculation that was Windows 8. What has made the shift possible has been the changing mix of consumer demand.

Microsoft's Windows end-of-sales page clearly shows some of the issues the company has faced. Windows XP first sold Dec. 31, 2001, and was on sale until June 30, 2008, or roughly six-and-a-half years. Windows Vista, considered a disaster of a release, lasted close to five years. Windows 7 also had about a four-year official lifespan. Windows 8? Two years. There is no announced end date for Windows 8.1.

Even though Vista is often seen as the true disaster among releases because of its poor performance issues, Microsoft has achieved a personal speed best in pushing 8 out of the way. One reason is Windows XP. Wildly popular among corporate buyers, even until recently, XP was the most widely used version of Windows, second only to 7.

That meant many companies were not buying upgrades. Not only was that bad news for the Microsoft business model, but it left the software maker tied to an older approach to computing that could not support touch devices like tablets or smartphones.

Windows 8 was supposed to break Microsoft out of the PC/laptop box. But it went too far. The software could be clumsy to use without a touch screen. That meant it was not a good choice for the bulk of existing hardware, again limiting Microsoft's financial potential and its ability to fully step into the mobile market.

Windows 8.1 was an improvement, but in many ways, Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been. There are options for touchscreens and for people using a keyboard and mouse. The company's hope is that it can create a bridge for people to migrate to mobile devices running Microsoft software and a future where it does not become irrelevant in client devices.