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Updated November 25, One of the most popular posts I have ever published at ZDNet was this one, originally titled Seven perfectly legal ways to get Windows 7 cheap or even free. I wrote it in late , and posted a follow-up one year later If you had followed my advice, you could have saved hundreds of dollars on upgrades and special deals for students and IT pros. Six years later, Windows 7 is in the rear-view mirror.
Most of the deals listed in those original posts are no longer available. But it is indeed still possible to find great deals on PCs running Windows 7, if you know where to look.
It’s also possible to tweak and tune newer Windows versions so that they are functionally equivalent to Windows 7. In that spirit, I’ve completely reworked this post with information that reflects the current PC market.
Windows 7 is officially middle-aged. It was publicly released more than six years ago, on October 22, With each passing day it is getting further and further from the midpoint of Microsoft’s year support lifecycle for Windows releases. In January , Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 7, and the five-year extended support phase began. In January , the Windows 7 support lifecycle will officially end.
But four years is a long, long time, and if you prefer the familiar environment of Windows 7 over its successors, you still have lots of options available. If you navigate your way through the confusing maze of Windows licensing rules, you’ll find that the best deals go to PC manufacturers, which means you’ll find the best new and refurbished PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled and ready to run.
If you just need the software, you can still buy Windows 7 software in shrink-wrapped retail and OEM packages, sometimes at prices that are literally too good to be true. If you’re an IT pro or developer who needs Windows 7 for testing, you also have subscription options, although they’re less of a deal than they were six years ago. For students, the best options come with newer versions of Windows. Most of the details I include in this post apply to Windows customers in the United States, but you should be able to find similar offers in other countries.
My goal in this post is to point you to deals that customers legitimately qualify for. I am not trying to encourage attempts by anyone to get away with something you’re not entitled to. If there are restrictions for a specific offer, I’ve noted them here. By far the best way to buy Windows 7 today, six years into its lifecycle, is to purchase it preinstalled on a new PC. You get a warranty and, more importantly, you get the OEM’s assurance that the hardware and software were designed to work together.
This option also spares you from the pain of Windows setup, especially the hassles of hunting down essential drivers and system-specific updates when you upgrade or downgrade a PC. There’s a catch, though: As of October 31, , any new PCs they offer must include the more expensive Windows 7 Professional. Machines that were manufactured before that date with Windows 7 Home Premium can still be sold.
Normally, the sales lifecycle for PCs with Windows 7 preinstalled would have ended long ago, but Microsoft extended that deadline in February PC manufacturers will no longer be able to sell new PCs with Windows 7 Pro as of October 31, , For details, see “What the Windows 7 Pro sales lifecycle changes mean to consumers and business buyers. The trick in shopping for these machines is to skip the front door and go straight for the business section.
Among online merchants, for example, Dell offers filters to show all available desktops and all-in-ones and laptops running Windows 7.
HP has separate pages for business desktops and laptops , but you have to look at each model to find the models with Windows 7 available.
Big online retailers that serve business markets should have similar selections covering a wide range of brands and the full spectrum of prices. There are plenty of sites where you can find “factory reconditioned” PCs for sale at legitimately low prices. Amazon-owned Woot, for example, always has lots of choices in its Computers section , although you’ll have to dig into the specs to confirm that the operating system you’re looking for is included.
I don’t recommend taking a chance with random sellers on eBay or Craigslist–not when there are so many well-established merchants that offer proper warranties and return policies, as well as an assurance that the underlying Windows license is legitimate. Under Microsoft’s arcane licensing rules, you can legitimately purchase OEM copies of Windows 7 any edition.
However, the license agreement with those copies explicitly prohibits you from using that software on a PC you build or refurbish for your own personal use.
Crazy, huh? ZDNet takes a look back at very best tech stories and features of From the year’s tech turkeys to products and services that get business done, we round up top gadgets, cloud highs, security lows — and much more. Read More. There are no technical limitations to prevent you from using OEM software on your own PC, although this software will work only for a clean installation and not for an upgrade.
In the past, Microsoft has been remarkably inconsistent in its advice to customers about whether this practice is allowed. Don’t ask Microsoft. To make the subject even more confusing, Microsoft briefly changed its licensing rules with Windows 8, adding a Personal Use Rights clause that allowed individuals to buy OEM Windows and install it on personal PCs. That change lasted exactly one year: with the launch of Windows 8.
The bottom line? Yes, you can install an OEM copy of Windows 7 on a PC for your own personal use; I recommend that you avoid doing so for your business, however, especially if you have a licensing agreement with Microsoft.
Most of the readily available options for new PCs include the latest version of Windows–that’s Windows 10 today with many Windows 8. If you love a particular piece of hardware and your preferred version of Windows 7 isn’t available on the build-to-order options list, don’t despair. You have four choices available.
If you purchase a new PC with a business version of Windows 8, Windows 8. Note that downgrade rights are not included on systems that ship with the core version of Windows 8, 8.
To exercise downgrade rights, you can use media for Windows 7 Professional that you acquire from any source. During installation, don’t enter a product key. After completing installation, you’ll need to activate your newly installed copy of Windows 7 by using the telephone activation option and explaining that you are using downgrade rights. Did you purchase a retail copy of Windows 7 any time in the past six years? Any full or upgrade license purchased through the retail channel or directly from Microsoft can legally be transferred to another PC.
That includes any of the deeply discounted upgrade offers that Microsoft made available when Windows 7 was new, including the three-license Family Packs of Windows 7 Home Premium. If you have the original Windows 7 installation media and product key and have removed the operating system from the PC on which it was originally installed, you can reuse that key on any PC.
You might be required to activate over the phone; when asked, be sure to specify truthfully that your copy of Windows 7 is installed on only one PC. Note that OEM copies of Windows 7 that were installed on PCs by the manufacturer are locked to that device and cannot be transferred. If the PC on which you want to install Windows 7 originally included a license for any version of Windows, you can buy a Windows 7 upgrade license from any vendor that has the software in stock and install that upgrade on your PC.
You don’t need to reinstall the old operating system; if you want to perform a clean install using upgrade media, you can use the workaround I describe in this post : Boot from the upgrade media and do an installation without entering a product key. Then use the same media to “upgrade” your brand-new installation.
Follow the instructions in this post. The most expensive option is to purchase a full retail license for Windows 7. It’s guaranteed to work with any PC, with no installation or licensing complications. The problem is finding this software, which Microsoft stopped selling years ago.
Most online merchants today offer only OEM copies of Windows 7. All the options I described earlier apply to PCs you plan to use in the home or office.
But if you’re a developer, an IT pro, or a student, you might have a completely different set of needs, including a desire to have one or more PCs running Windows 7 for testing purposes. Sadly, Microsoft ended the TechNet subscription service in But there are still useful options available to anyone who needs Windows 7 in a lab or virtual machine. Windows 7 evaluation versions are also no longer available.
MSDN subscription s are specifically intended for professional software developers. An annual subscription gives you access to a wide range of professional developer tools and pre-release products.
How long should you wait before deploying Windows 10? You can choose from different levels of MSDN subscriptions. It offers full access to every client and server version of Windows going as far back as Windows 3. For a full list of available packages, see this chart.
The MSDN license agreement is detailed and worth reading in full. There’s an excellent summary of your rights as a subscriber here. This paragraph is especially noteworthy:. Many MSDN subscribers use a computer for mixed use–both design, development, testing, and demonstration of your programs the use allowed under the MSDN Subscription license and some other use. Using the software in any other way, such as for doing email, playing games, or editing a document is another use and is not covered by the MSDN Subscription license.
When this happens, the underlying operating system must also be licensed normally by purchasing a regular copy of Windows such as the one that came with a new OEM PC. If you’re a professional developer or designer who uses Microsoft products, MSDN subscriptions can be a bargain.
If you just want cheap access to Windows 7, you have better options. If you are enrolled in a science, technology, engineering, or math department at an educational institution that subscribes to Microsoft DreamSpark Premium , you can get free software for use in your studies. It includes server software and development tools but does not include Windows client software. To check your eligibility through these programs, register here using a school-issued email address or a code supplied by an academic institution.
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