About those Windows XP 'upgrades' from Vista ...

The hits just keep coming for the Rodney Dangerfield of operating systems -- Windows Vista.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

The hits just keep coming for the Rodney Dangerfield of operating systems -- Windows Vista.

The latest: Wall Street firm Sanford Bernstein is dropping its Microsoft earnings estimates because of Vista perception problems, which the firm believes will impact negatively Vista's adoption curve. From excerpts from a new Sanford Bernstein report from by Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Todd Bishop:

"The inescapable conclusion of our 2008 survey is that support for Vista has been battered across all enterprise sizes and corporate constituencies. As a consequence, the Vista cycle looks likely to be materially less robust than indicated in our prior survey."

The analyst report also cites the "opportunities for continued XP 'downgrades'" as a factor contributing to Vista's problems.

As I continue to get reader requests for information on these XP downgrades (or "upgrades," as some unhappy Vista users prefer to call them), I thought it would be worth repeating one more time exactly what's what on that front.

As previously reported, Microsoft is requiring PC makers to stop preloading Windows XP on new machines after June 30, 2008. Microsoft support for XP doesn't end on that date; free Microsoft-provided support for XP continues through April 2009. Microsoft "Extended" support -- for which users must pay (other than for security-specific hot fixes and various self-help tools, which are free) -- lasts through 2014.

The ability to downgrade to an earlier version of Windows is not a new option that Microsoft and PC makers introduced because of Vista. Since at least 2001, Microsoft's Windows license has been structured in a way to allow users purchasing a new version of Windows to move back to an older release. A number of business users typically avail themselves of this option in order to keep all of their users on the same version of a product and/or because they require additional time to test their applications and peripherals for compatibility before moving to a new Windows release.

As M3 Sweatt, Chief of Staff of the Windows Core Operating System Division (COSD), recently blogged, both consumers and business users have the right to downgrade from Vista to XP -- but only for certain versions. Downgrades can be performed by a PC maker (when authorized by end user, as Sweatt noted), or the end user. Sweatt explained:

"The OEM versions of Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate include downgrade rights to Microsoft Windows XP Professional, Microsoft Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, and Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition."

For customers who get their operating system releases via a volume-licensing arrangement with Microsoft, downgrade rights on Windows client "are granted with all systems software licenses acquired through the Select License and Open License programs."

One caveat: Before moving from Vista to XP, users should make sure the older drivers are available for newer PC models. As Microsoft's Sweatt noted in his blog entry:

"(I)f you purchase your new PC with Vista pre-installed, and are considering downgrading to Windows XP, please ensure that your various peripherals and components have drivers for Windows XP. "

Bottom line: All the hoopla over Dell, Toshiba, Lenovo and others offering Vista users new "loopholes" via XP downgrades is not new at all. Downgrading/upgrading to XP is a right, not a privilege.

Editorial standards