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Petitioners Demand Microsoft Release a Free Windows 7

By Jack M. Germain
Jan 28, 2020 12:03 PM PT
the free software foundation has called on microsoft to make windows 7 open source

The Free Software Foundation wants Microsoft to keep Windows 7 alive as a free operating system. Microsoft stopped providing free security patches and support for Windows 7 earlier this month.

Although the popular operating system reached its 10th birthday last fall, some 200 million PCs around the globe still run it, according to industry estimates. Users include small business owners, some larger companies, government agencies, and hordes of consumers worldwide.

Microsoft expects most Windows 7 users to migrate to Windows 10, but it continues to provide patches and support for Windows 7 Pro and Enterprise, which are eligible for extended security update support for three years, for a fee. Windows 7 Home editions and Ultimate editions are not included in the options to purchase extended support.

The FSF this week launched the "Upcycle Windows 7" petition. The organization is still collecting signatures, though it has surpassed its goal of getting 7,777 people to sign on to make Windows 7 available for free. The current tally is approaching 10,000.

Making the OS free would allow users "the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software," according to the foundation.

The petition makes no reference to who would maintain the free version with necessary patchs and continued upgrades, if any.

Making Windows 7 free could be viable, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"At this point, the likelihood of converting current Windows 7 users to Windows 10 seems nil. Releasing the OS could earn Microsoft the goodwill of those users, and might lead to projects that would help ensure the continuing viability and security of Windows 7," he told LinuxInsider.

Not Just a Big Ask

The petition's wording is to demand rather than simply ask that the company release Windows 7 as free software. The petition asserts that Microsoft ended "10 years of poisoning education, invading privacy, and threatening user security."

Windows 7's end of lifecycle gives Microsoft "the perfect opportunity to undo past wrongs, and to upcycle it instead," it states.

A precedent for releasing some core Windows utilities as free software already exists, according to the petition. So Microsoft would lose nothing "by liberating a version of their operating system that they themselves say has reached its end."

Microsoft released code for the Windows Calculator. So it can do the same for Windows 7, according to the foundation.

Also, Microsoft released MS-DOS five years ago as downloadable code. However, using it is limited to the terms of a noncommercial-use license agreement.

Given Microsoft's growing prominence in open source, and its ownership of GitHub, releasing the Windows 7 code as open source also could be beneficial to Microsoft.

It could be positioned as "putting our money where our mouth is," King noted. Many in the open source community would welcome that.

Divided Responses

From Microsoft's perspective, releasing Windows 7 might not be as straightforward as one might expect. For typical consumers, Windows 7 already was free since it came bundled with their computers.

Microsoft is a for-profit company. That means it incurs costs to develop software for commercial use. The for-profit model is the foundation of the company, said Maryanne Steidinger, head of marketing for Webalo.

"IF they have no additional development costs -- services, support, troubleshooting -- around Windows 7, that might be a consideration to make it freeware, but then they should cut all support and let the market take the calls. I don't think anyone would want that," she told LinuxInsider.

The proprietary OS still has considerable market share to consider. Win 7's market share is expected to be 35 percent in 2020 and 28 percent in 2021, Steidinger added.

"So that endears users to keep it and maintain it," she said. "Because of the continuing market share and revenue generation for Windows 7, I think the company will say no."

It would be great if Microsoft released Windows 7 as freeware, but it is not a sure bet that the company will respond favorably to the petition, said Michael Arman, economic development director for the City of Oak Hill, Florida.

"Microsoft is not known for their charity, and there is plenty of code in Windows 7, which is used in 10 and in various other flavors of Microsoft's software. Why should they give that away when they can sell it?" he told LinuxInsider.

Mixed Corporate Signals

Microsoft declined our request to comment on the FSF's petition.

However, over the last few years, Microsoft executives have suggested that open sourcing some of its software titles was not out of the question.

A future version of Windows released as open source was "definitely possible," Microsoft's Mark Russinovich said at ChefConf 2015 in Santa Clara, California.

Microsoft should release Windows 7 code under a free software license to prove that its love of open source software is not just a vehicle to "exploit users," the foundation argues in the petition.

The foundation did not respond to LinuxInsider's request for clarification on the petition.

Why Keep Windows 7 Working?

For government agencies, consumers, and businesses still using Windows 7, the main reason to keep Windows 7 alive is a no-brainer. "It just works" is the common battle cry.

Upon its introduction, Windows 7 was a very good, highly stable OS that corrected most of the mistakes Microsoft made with Vista, Pund-IT's King pointed out.

"It still fills the bill for numerous Windows and applications, so satisfied consumers and businesses see little if any reason to change. This has been a recurring issue for past Microsoft OSes, including Windows 3.1, NT and XP, and I expect it will continue so long as Microsoft remains an OS vendor," he said.

Some Windows 7 users go even further in their continued praise for the out-of-date OS. It still works with an assortment of equipment and software that may not be compatible with Windows 10.

"Everyone who uses it has more or less gotten it figured out and is comfortable with it," Oak Hill's Arman emphasized.

"There is also a HUGE installed base of Windows 7 software in business applications, and in many cases drivers for custom applications to interface with Windows 10 have not been written and may never be written," he said.

The ONLY thing "wrong" with Windows 7 is that Microsoft no longer supports it. That will make it increasingly vulnerable to malware, said Arman.

"If the machine is not connected to the Internet, there is NO reason to make the change," he added. "Windows 7 is now effectively out of warranty, such as it was. That doesn't mean it won't work."


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software. Email Jack.


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