I predict that one or more of the following will happen soon...
1. Microsoft will extend the free update period.
Given the evident desperation that Msoft are displaying in all of this, they'll do this to capture more and more machines; it seems unlikely that they'll let go of this bone readily. Then, of course, the speculation about their truly nefarious intent will end, and will, instead, be proven - although some plantpots will no doubt call it kindness on Msoft's part, and laud them for it. Even if they do reach payment time for Win 10, while the nagging to update may stop, it seems unlikely that the snooping updates will stop. They've seen how much we are prepared to put up with, and they obviously feel very powerful right now. Or just don't care.
2. Microsoft will renege on the 7 and 8 support schedules.
The recent outrageous statement that Windows 7 is unsafe sounded to me like a precursor warning that they intend dropping it sooner rather than later. If a similar statement is made about 8, then we'll know that we've all been abandoned.
3. Microsoft will produce a once-longed-for Service Pack 2 for Windows 7.
This SP2 will contain all the nasties that we (have been\are being) careful to avoid. This will be a cynical mopping-up operation to ensnare the half-hearted, unobservant, or distracted naysayers. Anyone here going to install that doozy? Hands up. So that's no one, then.
Despite a long and fruitful, and largely enjoyable relationship with Windows, (95, 98SE, XP, 7 - I missed all the duffers) I too have installed Linux Mint alongside my 7, and am familiarising myself with it ready for the day. Sad, but true, and, I fear, inevitable now for many. They may come to regret this attack on us and our machines. I hope so. Come the day, I will install a clean 7, and turn off updates completely, just to be able to run those Windows-specific programs I own - assuming they allow me to do that, of course. (I'm a user, not a programmer, and so I am under no illusion that I can win and ultimately defeat any attack they execute - other than reinstall, take image, and install that image every four weeks. It's something, at least.)
This current debacle has elicited a change in forum threads. Over the years, in any thread, anywhere, seeking help with a Windows problem, there was always at least one of, "Just ditch Windows and move to Linux." Linux users are now silent because the previously loyal Windows users are now suggesting it themselves. Sign of the times.
I'll add my thanks for ALL the advice, links, and maintenance in this thread. It is appreciated.
I'm retired, and unlike most of you, this is now just a hobby - I'm not doing anything important with my machines, and so, I'm actually quite enjoying the chase. Something to do while I wait for Half Life 3. Steam works fine on Mint.