New Coke, the XFL, the recently canceled ABC drama 666 Park Avenue—all perfectly decent, but they lacked that certain excitement that turns a pimply kid into a Justin Bieber.
Windows 8 is also having a hard time exciting the masses. We love much about its touch-oriented user interface, personalization features, and deep links to cloud services. But many people shopping for a new PC just want the familiarity of Windows 7.
Pay a visit to Best Buy, as we did, and you'll find that if you hope to stick with Windows 7, you may be in for a rude awakening. "We don't carry Windows 7 anymore. It was phased out last year," a blue-shirted salesperson told us at a Dedham, Massachusetts, store.
That may be true at the Best Buy we visited, but when it comes to the availability of Windows 7 PCs, you still have options. You just need to know where to look.
Windows 7: Alive but fading
It's true that new Windows 7 PC options are vanishing to make room for Windows 8 machines. Net Applications reports that in January, for the first time since Windows 7 went on sale, the operating system lost market share. But there's no need to panic quite yet if you want a new PC that runs the older OS. Microsoft claims that its plans for ending the sale of PCs preinstalled with Windows 7 are "to be determined." However, the company does say that it will end mainstream support for Windows 7 in January 2015.
Way back in 2010, Microsoft shed light on what its commitment to support past Windows operating systems was going to be. "We are confirming our current policy of allowing retailers to sell the boxed version of the previous OS for up to one year after release of a new OS, and that OEMs can sell PCs with the previous OS pre-loaded for up to 2 years after the launch date of the new OS," wrote Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc on a company blog.
If this policy first stated in 2010 holds true, it means that retailers can sell boxed copies of Windows 7 until October 26, 2013, and that Dell, HP, and Lenovo can sell Windows 7 PCs until October 2014.
Windows 7 system hunter
We reviewed the websites of the top PC makers and discovered that Windows 7 PCs are getting harder to find.
For instance, if you shop for new desktops and laptops at Dell's For Home section online, all you will find are Windows 8 PCs. At Hewlett-Packard, a salesperson said "yes" when we asked whether the company sold Windows 7 desktops and laptops, but the systems were last year's models and being phased out. Of the dozens of PC models that HP sells, the representative told us, only four laptops and three desktops listed would ship with Windows 7. Additionally, few of the HP systems we browsed came with the latest Intel 3rd Generation i5 and i7 microprocessors.
The trick to finding more than just a few outdated Windows 7 models or having to jump through agonizing downgrade hoops with Windows 8 is knowing where to look. Here's our summary of what we found on the major PC makers' sites.
Dell: We didn't have much luck when we called Dell's sales line. A Dell rep told us that only a handful of "last year's" Windows 7 models existed. But when we went online and skipped the For Home section of PCs and went to Dell's For Small Business & Office pages instead, we hit the Windows 7 jackpot.
In the business section, we found Windows 7 models to choose from in the Latitude, Inspiron, Vostro, and XPS laptop and Ultrabook lines.
The number of Dell OptiPlex and high-performance Precision desktops equipped with Windows 7 were just as plentiful. However, we spotted only one budget-friendly, midrange Inspiron with Windows 7.
HP: As we found with Dell, most of HP's consumer Home & Home Office Store desktops and laptops ship with Windows 8. The trick to buying Windows 7-equipped PCs from HP is to skip calling the sales line and head directly to HP's Small & Medium Business Store. There, you can choose an Envy, Folio, or EliteBook system that comes with Windows 7.
Lenovo: Finding Windows 7 systems from the world's second-largest PC maker is a bit harder. Lenovo does carry Windows 7 hardware, but what we saw didn't impress us. The offerings ranged from underpowered laptops running Windows 7 Home Premium to expensive midrange ThinkPad models.
Beyond Dell, HP, and Lenovo, your choices narrow even more.
Best Buy may not stock its retail stores with Windows 7 PCs, but you can still buy Windows 7 systems by visiting BestBuy.com or calling the sales line. When we called, the rep told us that "most Windows 7 systems have sold out" and that the only Windows 7 systems for sale were an Alienware laptop and a refurbished Pavilion desktop.
Navigating BestBuy.com to find Windows 7 PCs was much easier. After we narrowed our search for Windows 7 systems, we found hundreds of different laptops and desktops that met our criteria (and even one Vista notebook).
The bottom line
In the end, don't trust what salespeople tell you. Windows 7 PCs are out there, but you need to visit Dell.com, HP.com, and other PC resellers' websites to find them.
Learn to use the specification sorting tools that typically run down the left side of such sites. In those columns, you'll see filters that you can choose to narrow your search.
As you drill down to Windows systems, you'll see the Windows 7 filter. Click it, and the chances are good that you'll be able to avoid Windows 8 just a little longer.