XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

Summary: Yes, Microsoft is extending downgrade rights for Windows XP. No, you will not be able to buy a PC with Windows XP downgrade rights in 2020. In fact, by my calculations XP will be officially and completely out of all sales channels in less than four years. Here's why.

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Yesterday, in a post about Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1, Microsoft announced they were extending downgrade rights for Windows XP. I saw the announcement and didn't think much of it. But then I saw that my colleague Mary Jo Foley had picked up on the story last night (Windows XP gets yet another reprieve from Microsoft). She referred to something she had read in ComputerWorld, and I said, "Really? XP is going to still be around in 2020? How could I have missed this?" So I took a second look at the Windows Team blog post, and a closer look at the licensing rules that all these dates are based on, and then I checked in with a Microsoft spokesperson to confirm my calculations.

Here's the short version: ComputerWorld missed a few important details in its calculations and thus reached the wrong conclusion. Yes, Microsoft is extending downgrade rights for Windows XP. No, you will not be able to buy a PC with Windows XP downgrade rights in 2020. In fact, by my calculations XP will be officially and completely out of all sales channels in early 2015.

Microsoft makes it easy to get confused with licensing issues, and the topics under discussion are ones I've written a lot about here in the past. I've already explained how downgrade rights work, and I decoded Microsoft's published support lifecycle for the business versions of Windows back in 2008: How long will Microsoft support XP and Vista? (If the rest of this post gets confusing, it might help to read either or both of those explainers).

Here's what Microsoft announced yesterday, in a post that looked like it was very heavily vetted by lawyers. I've highlighted a few key phrases:

To support our customers’ “unprecedented move” to migrate their PC environment to Windows 7, we have decided to extend downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional beyond the previously planned end date at Windows 7 SP1. This will help maintain consistency for downgrade rights throughout the Windows 7 lifecycle. As a result, the OEM versions of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate will continue to include downgrade rights to the similar versions of Windows Vista or Windows XP Professional.  Going forward, businesses can continue to purchase new PCs and utilize end user downgrade rights to Windows XP or Windows Vista until they are ready to use Windows 7. Enabling such rights throughout the Windows 7 lifecycle will make it easier for customers as they plan deployments to Windows 7.

In the interest of providing more consistency and predictability with how we manage the Windows lifecycle, we are confirming our current policy of allowing retailers to sell the boxed version of the previous OS for up to 1 year after release of a new OS, and that OEMs can sell PCs with the previous OS pre-loaded for up to 2 years after, the launch date of the new OS. This means that since Windows 7 launched on October 22, 2009, retailers will be able to sell the boxed version of Windows Vista until October 22, 2010, and OEMs will be able to sell PCs with Windows Vista preinstalled until October 22, 2011. I also recommend checking out this blog post regarding Windows XP end-of-sales and end-of-support deadlines.

Where ComputerWorld and Gizmodo and many others who've written about this have stumbled is by confusing the technical support lifecycle with the sales lifecycle. Microsoft's technical support lifecycle provides five years of mainstream support for all versions of Windows and five additional years of extended support for business versions of Windows. So yes, Windows 7 will be officially supported with security updates and bug fixes until the end of 2019, which is ten years after it was released.

But here's a much more important support date: April 2014. That's when Windows XP SP3 will reach the end of its support lifecycle and Microsoft will no longer distribute security patches for it. Businesses that deploy Windows XP via downgrade rights after April 2014 will be deploying an unsupported operating system. If you exercise those downgrade rights, you're completely on your own. Do you feel lucky?

And anyway, all this talk of support lifecycles is irrelevant. When Microsoft refers to "the Windows 7 lifecycle" in a discussion of licensing, they mean the completely separate sales lifecycle, which they helpfully explain in the very next paragraph. Remember, downgrade rights apply only when you purchase a new PC with an OEM license for a business edition of Windows (Professional or Ultimate). OEM sales stop two years after the release of the next version of Windows. (Sales of boxed retail copies stop one year earlier.) If you assume that Sinofsky's team will deliver another on-time release, then Windows 8 will hit retail shelves exactly three years after Windows 7, in October 2012. And that's when the clock starts ticking. Two years later, at the end of 2014, Microsoft will no longer permit OEMs to sell Windows 7. Customers can buy Windows 8, which will include downgrade rights to the previous two versions—Windows 7 and Windows Vista. It will not include downgrade rights to XP.

Microsoft could miss that ship date, of course, which would give XP a slight reprieve. But I doubt that will happen. And they could also choose to extend support for Windows XP again. But I don't see that happening, at least not by any significant amount. I could see them extending XP's support life to match the end of OEM sales via downgrade rights—from April 2014 to the end of that year—but sooner or later they have to nail the coffin shut.

Existing copies of Windows XP will not expire, of course. But OEM and volume license copies are tied to the hardware they were first installed on and can't be transferred to new systems. So by the end of 2015 you will no longer be able to buy any version of Windows that includes downgrade rights to XP. That's when XP finally rides off into the sunset for good.

Topics: Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • Existing copies of XP don't expire want to bet?

    OEM and Boxed Set Users copies need activation after re-installation. If MS Playsforsure is anything to go by. At 2015 will just turn XP activation servers off for good so reinstall will no longer be a option for all OEM and Boxed set users. Past this point the only people who will still be able to use it are copyright breachers and companies with VLK.

    There is nothing in the OEM or Boxed Set Licenses that say that MS has to free the old XP OEM and Boxed Set from the activation servers.
    oiaohm
    • Not exactly

      OEM copies from royalty OEMs do not need activation at all. They are preactivated, and if you reinstall that image from the original OEM media the activation status is preserved.

      In the past, Microsoft has publicly said if they ever decide to shut activation servers down they will release a patch that will eliminate the need for activation.
      Ed Bott
      • Boy history is a bugger.

        Royalty OEM's most of those cannot be moved to new motherboards. I forgot about those uglys where you don't always have media at all it was on the harddrive so leaving you screwed. If you do have media they install a stack of junk programs as well.

        I should have been more exact. The ones where you get a real looking Windows disk from MS that only installs windows will no longer work of the OEM if the server gets turned off.

        Playforsure MS made the same kind of promise about activation servers. Then they just turned them off.

        Actions say more than words.

        There is no need to release a patch by the way. Formally release VLK key generator for XP would do the job.

        That they say a patch should be a worry since that could make XP unstable or other bad things as well. VLK key release would be simplest and the safest and MS has not promised todo that.
        oiaohm
      • OEM keys work... if you know what you're doing...

        @olaohm I know it isn't exactly kosher, but you can use some (maybe most, maybe all) OEM keys with the "System Builder" CD sets you get at places like Microcenter and Newegg - at least with Windows XP. A friend's Compaq died on her, so I used her completely legit OEM Compaq installation key on a Dell that came with a Windows ME key, and it worked like a charm - no activation or anything.

        @Ed Bott - Microsoft would end up needing to release Windows XP image sets with the patch pre-installed, should that happen. Occasionally, I've had new Windows XP installs demand activation immediately after completion, instead of giving you the 30 day grace period. The bad news is you know pirates would download each one to spread the love; the good news is that XP would be so irrelevant by that point in time that very few would actually download the pirated copies.
        nix_hed
      • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

        @Ed Bott : Microsoft recently released a patch [I think] for Money which will allow people to continue to use the product as it has been tossed. Seems the software checks the MS servers after installation.

        Many of the OEMS [I know Dell did this] actually embedded their serial number in the XP installation CD.

        I can't see MS turning off the activation server until way after XP dies [assuming there is no activation patch]. You may have cases that even after XP support dies, there may be a legacy app that can only run correctly on XP [ACT and other options fail] and a re-installation of Windows is required.

        If an application was to be exclusively on the system, a full patched XP SP3 system could survive if the system was protected. No Internet access or limited to where it needs to go. An AV/firewall package and maybe limits where it can go internally.
        Gis Bun
      • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

        @Ed Bott
        Whew! That's a relief, since we all believe that all M$ has said "in the past" is 101% gospel truth and prophecy fulfilled. Didn't they officially say in the past that SP2 would be final SP released for XP?
        KnowBuddy3
      • Ed, what kind of stupidity is this?

        <i>Businesses that deploy Windows XP via downgrade rights after April 2014 will be deploying an unsupported operating system. If you exercise those downgrade rights, youre completely on your own. Do you feel lucky?</i><br><br>So they're going to continue [b]to sell[/b] downgraded XP rights after that date?<br><br>Ah, I can just see the lawsuits fly by, including another probe by the Federal Government.<br><br>Let's see them get away with selling an unsupported product. Bring it on!
        ahh so
      • RE: Ed, what kind of stupidity is this?

        @ahh so

        Certain customers can still buy freshly-minted copies of any version of Windows from Windows 95 onwards. They only retired Windows 3.11 for Workgroups from this system a few years ago.

        The companies buying these OSs *know* they're unsupported. The only reason they generally buy them is for support or compatibility reasons.
        MarkKB
      • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

        [i]Certain customers can still buy freshly-minted copies of any version of Windows from Windows 95 onwards.[/i]<br><br>And where can you buy these "freshly minted" copies at? I don't currently see anywhere where there are downgrade rights to anything other than XP at the moment.<br><br><i> They only retired Windows 3.11 for Workgroups from this system a few years ago.</i><br><br>Who's they? And what system?<br><br><i>The companies buying these OSs *know* they're unsupported. The only reason they generally buy them is for support or compatibility reasons. </i><br><br>Such as?<br><br>Look, I'm all for putting off buying new OSes for a few years. One doesn't have to have the latest and greatest if they don't want to, but 15 years? That's pretty ridiculous.
        ahh so
        • 15 Years? Try 17!

          Cdrecord was programmed in 1996. The latest and greatest burning software suites still use cdrecord. You don't have to fix something that isn't broken. The OS staging is a business model - there are linux users still on Ubuntu's Dapper Drake, which I believe came out circa 2006. It works just fine. In fact, there are some superior attributes it has compared to the most recent release of Ubuntu, in that you're not forced to use the Pulseaudio Server for your sound management. Sometimes companies make mistakes in moving forward. No need to be a lemming.
          Malakkar Vohryzek
        • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

          "And where can you buy these "freshly minted" copies at? I don't currently see anywhere where there are downgrade rights to anything other than XP at the moment."

          Downgrade rights for Windows 7 OEM only extend to XP, yes, but Volume License versions have downgrade rights all the way to Windows 95. See http://microsoftlicensereview.com/2011/01/03/windows-downgrade-rights/.

          According to Ed Bott, Vista also had downgrade rights back to Windows 95: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/theres-nothing-new-about-windows-downgrade-rights/809

          "Who's they? And what system?"

          Seriously? "They" is Microsoft, and the "system" is the downgrade rights system.

          "Look, I'm all for putting off buying new OSes for a few years. One doesn't have to have the latest and greatest if they don't want to, but 15 years? That's pretty ridiculous."

          And I'm with you there, but often you get enterprises who hired some contractor back in the early nineties to write them a Win16 or Win32s app, who then disappeared or went bankrupt or something. And it turns out they weren't a very good contractor after all. So the business is left with an app that works on only one, very old version of Windows, and it works very well thank you very much, and they're afraid of having to redo all that work again with another contractor - after all, why fix what isn't "broken"? (From their point of view.)
          MarkKB
    • XP Activation

      > At 2015 [MS] will just turn XP activation servers off ...

      Not so fast. This would be illegal for example in Germany, and probably throughout Europe. Any attempt to do so would turn into a legal nightmare for MS. And I'm skeptical if they are willing to take the backfire this would cause in regions where it may be legally feasible.

      Ed's end-of-updates argument is of course valid independent of this. But I doubt that the installation and activation per se will be inhibited after 2014 (in some regions it will surely not for legal reasons).
      thegerman
      • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

        @thegerman How is it illegal for a company to stop allowing people to buy an activate their products? Please explain.
        Jimster480
      • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

        @Jimster480: There are several legal aspects of this. One of the major points (grossly simplified): Standard software acquired on a physical medium is usually regarded a "thing" according to german law (contradicting statements in EULAs, etc. are irrelevant). To avoid confusion: This "thing" categorization applies to the software itself, not only to the physical medium. After you (legally) acquired a thing, you have -- within the boundarys of law -- the right to do with it whatever you want to (&#167; 903 BGB), including, of course, to use it for its customary purpose. The original manufacturer can't take this right away from you. If he tries, he'll get in serious legal trouble.
        thegerman
      • XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

        A general analogy (independent of specific legal aspects): The denial of activation would be similar to a car manufacturer, that goes one night -- without your consent -- to your (legally acquired and fully paid for) car, and takes out a critical, completely irreplaceable part, rendering the car almost use- and worthless.
        thegerman
      • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

        @thegerman

        I'm nowhere near a lawyer, but just for arguments sake (or more for inquiry), would there be a lawsuit for a company that no longer manufactured parts for a car that was twenty years old?

        Your answer to this would be more in the field of speculation for whether or not Microsoft would have legal trouble following discontinuation of support...

        (In addition, if Microsoft were to release a patch--as ED supposes--that deactivated activation, the problem would assuredly be solved.

        My perspective: as with 3.1, 95, 98, and ME, support has to end at some point. Windows XP is seriously antiquated at this point. I find it humorous how some people--not particularly inferring you, of course--complain about the security problems of old software [such as IE6 or XP] yet resist upgrading to newer, more secure versions... It's one thing to be able to afford it, but with things I've seen, people will be willing to purchase yearly licenses for antivirus and firewall, as opposed to purchasing a more secure OS--such as Windows 7--and using Microsoft's pretty effective, free, antivirus solution [Microsoft Security Essentials]...

        I went on a rant, but please do answer my question regarding lawsuits on a company that no longer manufactured parts for a ten or twenty year old car...)
        GSystems
      • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

        @G-Systems says...<br>[i]I'm nowhere near a lawyer, but just for arguments sake (or more for inquiry), would there be a lawsuit for a company that no longer manufactured parts for a car that was twenty years old?[/i]<br><br>You're argument would be flawed for the simple reason that M$ will continue [b]to sell[/b] downgrade rights even after XP's end of life cycle.<br><br>In other words they will actively sell an an OS they no longer support. Read what Ed said...<br><br><i>"Businesses that deploy Windows XP via downgrade rights after April 2014 will be deploying an unsupported operating system. If you exercise those downgrade rights, youre completely on your own. Do you feel lucky?"</i><br><br>Talk about a lawsuit in the making. Especially when the Federal Government is a heavy XP user themselves.
        ahh so
      • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

        @G-Systems: Your comment, especially your no-new-parts analogy misses the point of this specific branch of the discussion. There is a huge difference between not producing parts anymore (a manufacturer is of course free to do this), and taking away a part that is essential for customary use (which is at least in Germany -- and probably a lot of other jurisdictions, too -- an infringement of the rights of the owner) .
        thegerman
    • Compatibility? Hmmm

      @oiaohm
      Not that anyone will read this far but...
      I just saw in the Best Buy, Office Max and CompUSA ads this weekend (July 2010)...BRAND NEW PCs sporting...you guessed it, XP! Don't have that tombstone engraved just yet. Businesses drive the market. If Win 7 still lacks XP compatibility, then it will also fail.
      In fact, you'd puke your guts out if you realized that at this very moment in India and scores of Gov. offices around the U.S. there are programmers busily churning out NEW applications for CHARACTER BASED DB2 Apps and RPG. If they have not upgraded to windows in the last 30 years, what makes you think that they really care about whether their is a windows 8 or 9 out there?
      Many will switch as soon as the Mainframe emulator software is released for Win 7. Microsoft will do whatever they have to do to make money, if its supporting XP, they WILL do it. Time will tell.
      BaconSmoothie4-2
    • RE: XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...

      @oiaohm Most companies have XP images they use to load machines all at once...So a license server doesn't matter. Also,using a crack to get an XP copy working that you bought legally is not "copyright breaching"; so some may opt to do that rather than upgrade too. There is also the issue that to spite everything, Microsoft has not posed an OS yet that significantly offers enough to warrant upgrading. Furthermore, while a company can own XP installs, you're essentially renting use of windows 7 or later. the legalese is subtly different but bottom line MS is much more evasive in newer versions and has much greater access to the machine.
      Socratesfoot