Microsoft has slipped out an unannounced treat for those planning on delaying upgrading their operating system when Windows 8 is released: an extension to the support lifespan of Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
Surprisingly, the change to the support schedule for Microsoft's current-generation and last-generation operating systems came out of the blue. There has been no official press release, no note on any of the usual Microsoft blogs and even retailers are claiming to have been caught by surprise.
The move has, however, been confirmed by Microsoft as genuine when news of the change leaked courtesy of ZDNet
yesterday. 'Microsoft is updating the Support Lifecycle policy for Windows desktop operating systems, including Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7,
' the company told the site. Prior to that confirmation, the only clue was a message posted on Microsoft's Japanese site
The changes are designed, it appears, to bring the consumer editions of Windows in line with the corporate editions. While retail and OEM consumer-grade Windows releases get a five-year support lifespan, business and server releases get a ten-year support schedule designed to lessen the impact of moving to a new platform.
Under the new changes, the home releases of both Windows 7 and Windows Vista will now qualify for the additional five-year 'extended support' period previously restricted to the business-oriented releases. As a result, those still running Vista get a reprieve: the original schedule would see support for the operating system end in April this year. Under the new scheme, all editions of Windows Vista will qualify for extended support until 2017 while Windows 7 will be supported until 2020.
The move could be seen as a 'long game' for Microsoft: while it's betting heavily on the success of Windows 8, its smartphone-inspired and touch-heavy 'Metro' user interface could leave some turned off. As a result, adoption of the new platform outside mainstream PC sales is likely to be slow at first until the Metro UI can prove itself. By extending its support lifespan, Microsoft is clearly hoping to keep both its home and business users happy.