Beware of Windows 7 downgrade/upgrade mess

According to Gartner analyst Michael Silver, businesses looking to migrate to Windows 7 could find the whole process much harder and more expensive than it needs to be ... thanks to Microsoft.

According to Gartner analyst Michael Silver, businesses looking to migrate to Windows 7 could find the whole process much harder and more expensive than it needs to be ... thanks to Microsoft.

Here's what Silver had to say to Infoworld:

"Under Microsoft's planned enterprise licensing rules, businesses that buy PCs before April 23, 2010, with Windows 7 pre-installed can downgrade them to Windows XP, then later upgrade them to Windows 7 when they're ready to migrate their users. But PCs bought on or after April 23 can only be downgraded to Vista - which is of no help for XP-based organizations, Silver notes - and could cause major headaches and add more costs to the Windows 7 migration effort."

So, the upshot is that after April 23, 2010 you could end up with a pot-luck stew of systems running XP and Vista. That's bad news if you've been planning on skipping Vista. If you wanted to avoid this kind of mess, there are options open to you, but none of them are particularly attractive:

  • Take the Software Assurance (SA) route which costs some $90 extra per PC per year. This allows you to install any OS you want. However, most go for SA as a way to future-proof systems rather than to get downgrade rights, and even then you can end up paying for air (for example, if you had bought SA in October 2003 with an eye to getting the next version of Windows in the deal, you'd have been out of luck since Vista didn't make an appearance until November 2006).
  • Buy more PCs before April 23, 2010 and hold onto them until you need them.
  • Try finding someone willing to sell XP licenses.
  • Rush to adopt Vista or 7.

None of these options are particularly attractive. Maybe the best route for companies tied to XP is to look at PC replacements over the past few years and stock up on spare XP licenses, just in case. If you're confident of your numbers you could buy these as part of new systems before the deadline. Remember though, that buying a PC that you aren't going to use for many months is not being sensible with your money.

[UPDATE: Microsoft has finally clarified the XP to 7 downgrade rights, extending the period to 18 months following general availability ... or until SP1 is released.

So, once SP1 is around the corner, you'll need to be ready to roll with 7 or have a contingency plan in place.]

Decisions, decisions ...