Windows 7 may have limited XP downgrade rights

Microsoft plans to only allow those who buy Windows 7 machines during its first eighteen months on the market to go back to XP. Will that be a headache for businesses?

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read

Microsoft will allow only limited rights for those who buy a Windows 7 PC to go back to Windows XP, according to an analyst who said he has been briefed on Microsoft's plans.

According to Gartner analyst Michael Silver, Microsoft plans to only allow the downgrade option to those who buy PCs during the first six months that Windows 7 is on the market (see update below). After that, Microsoft's proposed licensing terms would allow buyers of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate only to go back to the comparable Windows Vista edition.

That could put users, particularly small businesses, in a bind. That's because many businesses want the right to go to Windows 7 without having to pay more, but will need longer than six months to test the new operating system.

"This becomes an important issue," Silver said, noting that many businesses haven't been running Vista at all and plan to jump from Windows XP to Windows 7. "The ones that skipped Windows Vista need to be able to run Windows XP and later run Windows 7 and would like to not have to pay Microsoft for that (on new machines that they are buying)."

Businesses that have volume license deals for Windows or a software assurance contract would be able to move back to Windows XP even if they bought their Windows 7 PCs after six months, Silver said.

A Microsoft representative was not immediately available for comment (see update below). The company had said it would allow downgrades with Windows 7, but has not gone into great detail.

Downgrade rights, though they also existed with Windows XP, came into prominence with Windows Vista as a broad array of users, from consumers to small and mid-size businesses to corporations, all looked to buy new machines that could run Windows XP.

Silver said he doesn't expect as many people will buy Windows 7 machines with the intent of permanently staying on XP, but he said businesses need more than six months to make the move.

"I think it will be more temporary than with Vista," he said, referring to the downgrade phenomenon. "With Vista, a lot of people brought in machines with XP and had no intention (to move to Vista) or eventually lost that inclination to upgrade to Vista."

Silver also said the six-month rule will create a huge administrative headache for businesses trying to determine which of their machines can legally run XP.

Update, 5:00 p.m.: A Microsoft representative said late Tuesday that the company has decided to extend the period for which Windows 7 machines will be eligible to downgrade to XP. Rather than a six-month window, as originally planned, the window will extend to either 18 months from the Windows 7 launch or until the release of the first service pack of Windows 7, whichever comes first.

Microsoft reiterated that this policy applies to the Windows license that comes with new PCs. Businesses with volume licenses or software assurance that covers Windows can go back to XP or even earlier versions of Windows regardless of when they purchase a Windows 7 machine.

With Windows Vista, PC makers counted on their ability to sell machines with the right to go back to Windows XP, in some cases even pre-loading the older operating system. CNET