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Readers Down on Microsoft Downgrades

Moving to an older version of Microsoft software can be tricky, some readers say.

Most industry observers know by now that, to put it lightly, not everybody wants Windows Vista. With Windows 7 on the way, Vista might soon be a distant memory. But, in the meantime, many Microsoft users and IT pros are still trying to downgrade from Vista to Windows XP, and Redmond readers say that can be a tricky task.

Readers' main beef involves having to pay for "downgrades" to XP after having already bought Vista. Thomas Polk, of Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Intrasect Technologies, tried to downgrade from Vista to XP using Microsoft's documented downgrade procedures. Polk recalls the response he got from the Microsoft activation center: "You can't do this; it's illegal. You have to get the activation code from the hardware vendor. You have to purchase a retail copy of Windows XP Pro," he recounts.

"How is that a downgrade?" Polk asks. "We finally gave up and sold the client an open license [that has downgrade keys with it] and put the OEM software on the shelf."

Polk isn't the only reader who settled for an expensive solution to what should be an inexpensive downgrade problem. Rodolfo M. Raya, of Maxprograms, a Uruguay-based maker of software for document translation, couldn't even move down from one version of Vista to another.

"I tried to downgrade from Vista Business to Vista Home Premium, and Microsoft denied me the right," Raya says. "My new laptop came with Vista Business installed in Spanish, and I wanted to replace it with an English version. The only Vista DVD I have in English is one for Home Premium, but the install keys didn't work and Microsoft staff told me on the phone that the downgrade is illegal."

Raya also ended up going the open-license route: "I solved the problem in an expensive way: buying MOLP [Microsoft Open License Program] licenses at a local distributor. I paid again for a license that was already included with my laptop just to be able to download a Vista image in English."

More than a Microsoft Problem
Paul Rescino, who custom-builds a line of computers called PCA+ Computers in Algonquin, Ill., also reports that moving from Vista to XP has proven to be an expensive challenge. He notes, however, that downgrade problems can't always be traced straight back to Microsoft.

"I've had many people ask me to downgrade their name-brand computers from Vista to XP, but it can't always be done," Rescino says. "If the OEM hasn't released drivers for XP, then you can't run XP. I had one client who thought I could write drivers for him. Even if I were a programmer, I wouldn't want to think about that insanity."

But Rescino adds that Microsoft's downgrade policies can make moving down to XP expensive. "You must purchase Windows XP to do the downgrade," he says. "So it would cost one of my customers $150 plus tax for Windows XP and my $90 flat rate charge for reinstalling the OS. Also, most of the bundled software won't be available for the downgraded computer," Rescino adds.

It's enough to make Rescino consider alternatives for his customers, he says. "If they don't want Vista, I'd rather give them Linux. They can have Ubuntu Linux for free. For the same effort it would take to learn Vista, you can learn an excellent operating system such as Ubuntu," he notes.

Willing to Pay
Still, some readers defend Redmond's policies. Sharon Finden, with 110 Consulting Inc. in Bellevue, Wash., likens software downgrades to car trades.

"I don't understand why someone would think that you should be able to get past versions of an operating system after buying the new version," Finden says. "With this logic, I should be able to buy a 2009 car and when I decide I don't like one of the features, I take it back to the dealer and tell them I want an '08. Applying this to software: Have you ever heard of any software downgrade that didn't require you buy the older version? The latest version of Photoshop is more complicated than the version I learned on. Should I get an older one for free if I buy the new one?"

And Brian Kronberg, senior Microsoft consultant for distributor CDW Corp., says that Windows 7 might make the downgrade issue moot, anyway. "Once users see Windows 7 in action, they ditch Windows XP pretty quickly," he says. "[Windows 7] runs much faster than Vista and as well as XP on decent systems."

About the Author

Lee Pender is the executive features editor of Redmond magazine. You can reach him at lpender@redmondmag.com or follow him on Twitter.

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