How the new Windows 8 license terms affect you

How the new Windows 8 license terms affect you

Summary: What's changed in Microsoft's radical new license agreements for Windows 8? I've got full details about how you can transfer Windows to a new PC, downgrade rights, and who qualifies for upgrades.

TOPICS: Windows, Legal, Microsoft, PCs

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Can I transfer my copy of Windows 8 to another PC?

That depends.

If you buy a new PC with Windows 8 already installed, your OEM Windows license is permanently bound to that computer. The only way you can transfer the license to another person is to sell or give away the computer itself, with its copy of Windows. The following terms apply:

The transfer must include the software, proof of purchase, and, if provided with the computer, an authentic Windows label such as the certificate of authenticity label including the product key. You may not keep any copies of the software or any earlier version. Before any permitted transfer, the other party must agree that this agreement applies to the transfer and use of the software.

If you purchase the software separately, in a package or as a download, the rules are much more liberal. Note that the text for the following rules is identical for retail upgrades and for System Builder software that you install on a PC you build yourself, or in a virtual machine, or on a separate partition. Emphasis in the following sections is in the original:

You may transfer the software to another computer that belongs to you. … You may not transfer the software to share licenses between computers.

In other words, you can remove the Windows 8 upgrade from an original PC and then install it on another PC, assuming the new PC has a license that qualifies it for an upgrade. Likewise, you can completely remove the PUL System Builder software from a self-built PC, a VM, or a partition and then install it in a new physical or virtual PC. 

There is no limit on the number of times you may do this type of transfer, providing you follow the rules I describe later in this section. That means hobbyists who like to tinker with PCs can relax. If you buy a System Builder copy, you can move (not share) that license from an old PC to a new one.

You may also transfer the software (together with the license) to a computer owned by someone else if a) you are the first licensed user of the software and b) the new user agrees to the terms of this agreement. To make that transfer, you must transfer the original media, the certificate of authenticity, the product key and the proof of purchase directly to that other person, without retaining any copies of the software.

In either case, one ironclad rule applies:

Anytime you transfer the software to a new computer, you must remove the software from the prior computer.

Note that these transfer rights apply only to Windows itself. The various ancillary packages Microsoft sells with Windows are tied to the machine for which they are purchased. Specifically:

You may transfer Get Genuine Windows software, Pro Pack or Media Center Pack software only together with the licensed computer.

Does Windows 8 include downgrade rights?

Windows 8 continues in the tradition of previous Windows versions. If you buy a new PC with Windows 8 Pro installed, the license includes the following terms:

Can I downgrade the software? Instead of using the Windows 8 Pro software, you may use one of the following earlier versions: Windows 7 Professional or Windows Vista Business.

This agreement applies to your use of the earlier versions. If the earlier version includes different components, any terms for those components in the agreement that come with the earlier version apply to your use of such components. Neither the manufacturer or installer, nor Microsoft, is obligated to supply earlier versions to you. You must obtain the earlier version separately. At any time, you may replace an earlier version with Windows 8 Pro.

Note that Windows XP is not a permitted downgrade.

These rights are similar to those available in Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate, Windows Vista Business and Ultimate, and Windows XP Professional, all of which allowed a licensed user to install and run a previous version of Windows in place of the licensed software.

And if you were hoping for a loophole that would let you buy one of those inexpensive $40 upgrades to Windows 8 Pro, which you could then use to downgrade to Windows 7 Professional, you are out of luck. Downgrade rights are not available for System Builder copies of Windows 8 installed with a Personal Use License or for upgrades from a preinstalled copy of Windows 8. The purpose of downgrade rights is for you to continue using an existing supported version of Windows when you buy a new PC with the latest version.

Volume License customers who purchase Software Assurance contracts from Microsoft will continue to have downgrade rights on systems they purchase that include Windows 8 Pro.

Can I legally install Windows 8 in a virtual machine?

Yes. You can install any version of Windows 8 in a virtual machine, using virtualization software on any platform. (If the VM is running a properly licensed copy of a recent Windows version, you can use the upgrade edition of Windows 8; in most circumstances, the PUL System Builder edition is the correct choice.)

Note that you cannot share licenses between the host PC and a virtual instance. The following text appears in section 1(f):

If you use virtualization software, including Client Hyper-V, to create one or more virtual computers on a single computer hardware system, each virtual computer, and the physical computer, is considered a separate computer for purposes of this agreement. This license allows you to install only one copy of the software for use on one computer, whether that computer is physical or virtual. If you want to use the software on more than one virtual computer, you must obtain separate copies of the software and a separate license for each copy.

Can I choose between 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64) versions on the same PC?

With a valid license, you may use either 32- or 64-bit Windows, but you may install only one of those versions. The OEM license includes a lengthy bit of additional wording as a caution when switching from a factory 64-bit installation to a 32-bit version:

Installing the 32- bit version of Windows 8 on this system requires a change to the BIOS settings to legacy BIOS mode. If you switch back to the 64- bit version of Windows 8 from the 32-bit version of Windows 8, you should revert back to the original BIOS settings. If you do not revert back to these BIOS settings when switching back to the 64-bit version, the following Windows 8 functionalities will not work as they rely on UEFI mode boot:

  • Secure Boot,
  • Seamless Boot experience,
  • Network unlock for Bitlocker for computer with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM); and
  • eDrive support.

Reverting back to UEFI mode will require a hard drive reformat. All data and personal settings will be lost. It is highly recommended that you back up your data before you revert back to UEFI mode.

Who provides support for my copy of Windows?

If you purchase a retail upgrade or you install a System Builder copy under the terms of a Personal Use License, you receive support directly from Microsoft:

Microsoft provides limited support services for properly licensed software as described at

If your copy of Windows was installed on a PC that you purchased, the PC maker is generally responsible for support:

For the software generally, contact the manufacturer or installer for support options. Refer to the support number provided with the software. For updates and supplements obtained directly from Microsoft, Microsoft may provide limited support services as described at If you are using software that is not properly licensed, you will not be entitled to receive support services.

Retail upgrades of Windows 8 have a limited warranty of one year. On OEM PCs, Windows has a limited warranty of 90 days.

Topics: Windows, Legal, Microsoft, PCs

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  • Price for the upgrade

    Got the email "Windows Upgrade Offer Registration is Available" 2 days ago. In the link , it reads that the price for the upgrade to Windows Pro is $14.99, provided the following eligibility requirements:

    "Eligibility Details

    The offer is for customers (e.g. Home users, students, and enthusiasts) who purchase a qualified PC. A qualified PC is a new PC purchased during the promotional period with a valid Windows 7 OEM Certificate of Authenticity and product key for, and preinstalled with:

    Windows 7 Home Basic;
    Windows 7 Home Premium;
    Windows 7 Professional; or
    Windows 7 Ultimate.

    The promotional price is limited to one upgrade offer per qualified PC purchased, and a maximum limit of five upgrade offers per customer."
    • Separate program

      That $15 product is a discounted upgrade for customers who buy a Windows 7 PC during the time after Windows 8 was announced but before it shipped.

      The upgrade for the general public is a separate offer.
      Ed Bott
      • The usual M$ Byzantine labyrinth of horsecrap

        Only designed to confuse the public. And Ed Bott's here to justify it.
        Cylon Centurion
        • Hmm

          I don't see how it's confusing?
          Just lie and get your cheap Windows 8..
          Thomas Howl
    • You cannot TRANSER without going through the whole activation process

      I totally disagree with Microsoft on this issue.

      Microsoft should let people transfer the license without activation if your not sharing the license BUT THEY DON"T.

      I have a sata dock like many people. One hard drive installed with Windows 8. I turn the pc off and replace the pc. Now when I boot the new PC I'm faced with activation.

      I'm not sharing the license, I don't have two pc's on using the license at the same time.

      I'm assuming this isn't going to change so my plans on buying Windows 8 for my family and relatives have changed.

      If Microsoft can't detect two pc's on at the same time using the same license it shouldn't be taken out on the consumer.

      If Microsoft CAN detect two pc's on at the same time using the same license it should be ashamed of itself for making people go through the activation process.

      Windows 8 is the best OS to date from Microsoft however this license issue needs to be addressed for the consumer.

      If one PC is off and the other is on, it isn't sharing a license, therefor consumers shouldn't be faced with activation time consuming processes. A pc that is turned off is not using any license, any power, nothing.
  • To wit...

    It seems the only users left out-in-the-cold, so to speak, from my understanding, are people that purchased Windows 7 Starter Edition (of the Windows 7 license holders).
    • You're confusing two programs

      The mailing you got is for the $14.99 upgrade available to anyone buying a new PC today with Windows 7 preinstalled.

      The $40 upgrade offer that will be available in the fall is different.
      Ed Bott
      • Is there a Family Pack Option

        I have 1 desktop and 2 laptops with Windows 7 Home Pro installed, and would like to upgrade all 3 to Win 8. Is there a family pack option, or do I have to buy 3 separate $40 upgrade licenses?
        • No Family Pack

          If you recall, the Family Pack was $150 for three licenses of Home Premium.

          This is $40 each for Windows 8 Pro, the higher-priced SKU. So a better deal all around.
          Ed Bott
          • Thanks, Ed!

            That's what I thought. I'll still upgrade all 3, as I found the battery life for the laptops and the performance of all three devices have improved under Windows 8.
  • Maybe Ed could shed some light on this, then...

    Since Windows 7 Starter Edition customers are seemingly ineligible, why then should those that chose to not upgrade to Windows 7 but held onto older versions be held in higher regard?
    • It will be eligible for the 40$ upgrade

      As far as I know, there is not distinction for the Windows 7 editions for the 40$ upgrade, also any XP and Vista editions can upgrade.

      Starter is excluded from the 14.99$ upgrade offers to people buying Windows 7 computers starting in July.

      Anyway, Starter was netbook version and a lot of netbooks only have 600 line of screen resolution which is below the Windows 8 minimum of 768 lines.
    • Spreading FUD! Where do you get that 'seemingly ineligible' from?

      Wording does not distinguish between consumer versions.
  • Downgrade rights...

    Lets say I have 3 machines with Windows XP. For arguments sake lets call it the home version.

    I buy 3 copies of the Windows 8 upgrade package. (The one that will be on special at $40)

    Can I then use that Windows 8 upgrade package to request downgrade rights to say Windows 7.

    In other words, use the Windows 8 promotion as a cheap mechanism of getting 3 copies of Windows 7.

    Also when downgrading from Windows 8 Pro which version do you get - Win 7 Ultimate? Win 7 Pro? Win 7 Home?

    Thanks for any help provided :)
    • Yes but ...

      Licensing looks Ok ... but I think you will trip up here:
      "Neither the manufacturer or installer, nor Microsoft, is obligated to supply earlier versions to you."
      My guess is nobody will supply the earlier OS, or will do so at an unattrictive price. I'd find a willing supplier before starting.

      Upgrades are focussed on the PRO version, including media centre I believe.
      • You can get a disk from anywhere

        If you have one lying around, you can use it. You can download it from TechNet or MSDN.

        Those exact same terms have been associated with downgrade rights for a decade. Nothing has changed. Loosen the tinfoil...
        Ed Bott
        • We've disagreed here before :-(

          1. If you have one lying around. Well this poster doesn't - he's got XP and a W8 upgrade.

          2. If someone else has one lying around you cannot use it. Either ...

          a. It's their OEM disc which can only (license-wise) be used on their specific machine (and if they have 10 DELL PC's then they may have 10 disks, each of which can only be used on the corresponding PC!).

          b. It's from MSDN or Technet ... which may ONLY be used on test machines, and where MSFT have explicitly tightened up of late to prohibit installation on home computers (you blogged the details!) ... and which this poster did not say he had subscribed toward.

          NOTE: the MSFT document EXPLICITLY STATES "manufacturer or installer, nor Microsoft" ... it does not say borrow a disk from any friggin' where.
          If you want to go on record as saying MSDN and Technet subscribers can loan their downloads to 3rd parties, providing they check the 3rd parties' license compliance ... then be my guest!

          c. Its a volume license disc ... which are for businesses. This poster seemed to be a consumer.

          Re-tightens tinfoil, much tighter this time.
          Suppose I did 'obtain' a Windows 7 Pro x64 ISO from Technet ... how precisely would I activate Windows 7 on my 2 year old DELL PC?
          Surely the ISO would be the vanilla version, lacking the embedded OEM certificates to make it a DELL, HP, LENOVO, ... whatever?
          • I have answered this repeatedly in the past

            Use your favorite search engine and look for my name plus "downgrade rights."

            Your COA for a business edition of Windows is your proof of license. You have to phone in to activate the downgraded installation. Anyone capable of doing a downgrade almost certainly has installation media available or can get it. Downgrade rights are primarily intended for businesses, which have IT staffs that do this stuff all the time. For consumers, it's obviously more of a tech challenge but not insurmountable.

            However, it's pretty clear from your entire posting history that you want everything to prove how evil Microsoft is. So go for it.
            Ed Bott
          • What a wanker! Spend the money wisely up front

            You lost your old version, you lose! Take more care next time.

            Disks or brain cells, it's all the same process!

            "You must obtain the earlier version separately."
            That does not mean you can downgrade to a version for which you did not have any right to use in the first place.

            The main reason anyone wants to use an older version is because they are ALREADY using it and do not want to risk disrupting current processes.

            This highlights that if one wants to have resilience, one is better not running critical processes on exotic hardware, or at least making the exotic parts external, so that they can be transferred to newer generic computers.

            The best option for an individual is to build your own computer and buy a retail OS pack, which you can legally transfer to whatever future hardware you like. If running critical software that is reliant on a particular OS version, skimping on how you buy that version is false economy, as the time and money involved in remedial action blows the savings out of the water. Think of it as insurance. Upgrades to a retail pack endow the same transfer rights as that original retail pack (unless explicitly taken away).

            Basically, with critical software, don't skimp. And if you do skimp, don't expect anyone to save your butt.
          • Buying one set of upgrade disks, then others online

            With the basic proviso of being cautious, to upgrade our PCs, I am buying one retail upgrade package so I have a set of physical disks, and the rest online.

            That way I don't have to download anything. The online process will just furnish me with product keys for the additional licences.

            Overall, an extra $30 for recognisable disks instead of handscrawled ones or some file stowed away on the NAS box, both likely to be accidentally purged on some cleanup exercise in the future.