Microsoft has taken further steps to move users onto newer versions of its desktop operating system, by officially ending the retail availability of Windows 7 and 8.

As of 31st October 2014, consumers can no longer purchase copies of Windows 8, or the Home Basic, Home Premium or Ultimate versions of Windows 7. This decision affects not only stand-alone copies, but those already installed on desktop computers and laptops as well.

Although the Redmond tech firm has also stopped supplying the software to retailers and manufacturers, it will take some time before this transition is complete, since many PC builders still have large collections of stock to get through.

The decision has come as no real surprise, given that Microsoft had already announced its end-date. However, it does coincide with the release of new data showing that users are finally willing to embrace the more recent releases.

[themecolor]1 in 6 users still have XP[/themecolor]

With more than 16 per cent of PC users still relying on Windows XP, which was released over 13 years ago, Microsoft has faced a much-publicised struggle to get people onto newer, more secure alternatives.  Now it appears that Microsoft is finally beginning to achieve its goal.

From now on, Windows 8.1 – the latest version – will come as standard on PCs available to domestic shoppers, with the next major version, Windows 10, set to be released towards the end of 2015.

According to technology journalist Gordon Kelly, there are other factors influencing Microsoft’s decision besides the security of its users. He was quoted by as saying that the policy signals “Microsoft’s determination to distance itself from the original form of Windows 8.”

While Windows 8 was released only two years ago, the major changes it brought to users’ PCs weren’t particularly popular. The updated version, however, went some way to fix the most common issues and was received relatively positively upon its release in October 2013.