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Windows 7 Will Have an XP Downgrade Option

Microsoft will permit Windows 7 Professional edition downgrades to Windows XP Professional, according a report by veteran Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley published on Monday.

A Microsoft spokesperson told Foley that downgrade rights apply to "previous versions of Windows, not just the most recent predecessor" (namely, Windows Vista). The ability to skip editions of Windows actually has been long-standing policy, as described in Microsoft's EULA, a company spokesperson explained to me.

The downgrade rights are restricted to specific OS editions. The present migration scenario is from Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate to Windows XP Professional. Those with other Vista editions, such as Home Premium and Home Basic, don't have those downgrade rights. Furthermore, Vista users are restricted to moving to XP Pro, XP Pro x64 or XP Tablet PC editions, a Microsoft document (PDF) explains.

Renewed questions about downgrade rights popped up after an AppleInsider story reported a leaked HP memo that read, "The Win 7 Professional to XP Pro downgrade OS will also discontinue on April 30th 2010." Microsoft would not confirm that date, according to Foley, although the company did confirm that it will be possible to downgrade to XP from Windows 7.

If the date is true, IT pros will be able to purchase new PCs with Windows 7, but downgrade to XP, for another year. It might give some IT departments more time to upgrade their shops from XP.

The policy is somewhat wrapped in confusion because Microsoft's hardware partners typically must provide XP media to their customers wanting to downgrade. The availability of such media determines whether the OEM can fulfill the downgrade rights promise, as noted in a story by Gregg Keizer.

The OEM or the end user can install the OS downgrade, according to the "Windows Vista Downgrade Rights" document. The media (CD or DVD) to install the downgrade comes from "the retail, OEM/System Builder, or volume licensing channels," according to the document.

Microsoft extended the date for OEMs to offer new PCs with downgrades to XP through July 2009. System builders can offer new PCs with downgrades to XP through May 30, 2009.

However, there are apparently loopholes even in those dates. An HP FAQ suggested it might offer XP Pro downgrades through 2012.

"Through HP's PC Customization Service (PCCS) -- HP can install the customer’s XP Professional image on a system with a Vista Business Edition COA/Pre-install for as long as HP continues to offer and pre-install Vista Business Edition (we estimate that to be through 2012)," the FAQ explains.

Technically speaking, the availability of XP on new PCs (other than through Vista downgrades) has ended, except for low-cost netbook PCs running XP Home edition. Microsoft describes its XP license availability here.

HP's FAQ explains that Vista users can only downgrade to a "generic XP Pro" version. A spokesperson from HP explained by e-mail that this version "is the XP image that we always put on our systems and it includes HP drivers, etc." Furthermore, HP doesn't charge extra for providing this downgrade media, the spokesperson added.

However, some OEMs may charge for doing the downgrade or providing the downgrade media. For instance, a lawsuit (PDF) was filed against Microsoft by a Lenovo PC owner who paid $59.25 to downgrade from Vista Business edition to Windows XP Pro.

The tussle over XP downgrade rights comes even as mainstream (free) support for XP is dwindling. Mainstream support will end next week on April 14. Users can still buy extended support for XP, but that extended support offer will end on April 8, 2014, according to a Microsoft support page.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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