Microsoft will allow Windows 7 users to downgrade to XP

Microsoft and its PC partners are going to allow Windows 7 users to downgrade not just to Windows Vista, but also to Windows XP, Microsoft officials are confirming.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Special Report: Windows 7

Microsoft and its PC partners are going to allow Windows 7 users to downgrade not just to Windows Vista, but also to Windows XP, Microsoft officials are confirming.

Some company watchers have been wondering about the downgrade rights that Microsoft will offer when Windows 7 ships. When AppleInsider reported this weekend that HP was going to offer Windows 7 users the ability to downgrade to XP, I asked Microsoft about the story.

Here's what a spokesperson representing the company's Windows client division told me via e-mail on April 5:

MJF: Does Microsoft have downgrade rights for Windows XP planned as part of Windows 7?

Microsoft spokesperson: Yes. This is not the first time that Microsoft has offered downgrade rights to a version other than its immediate predecessor and our Software Assurance volume-license customers can always downgrade to any previous version of Windows. (Note: Microsoft changed the statement from "Software Assurance" to "volume license" Monday afternoon.)

(The spokesperson clarified later that downgrade rights allow users to install previous versions of Windows, not just the most recent predecessor. In other words, a Software-Assurance-covered volume-license user who wanted to downgrade from Vista could, technically, go back to Windows 2000 or even Windows 95, not just XP. Who knew?) MJF: Is Microsoft cutting these kinds of rights deals with each OEM individually? Has it made such an arrangement with HP?

Microsoft spokesperson: Downgrade rights policies are the same for all of our main OEM partners and what you are talking about is not a special arrangement. Since the End User right to Windows XP Professional is part of the license terms for these editions, it's really about making facilitation options easier for our OEM customers and End Users.

(It's worth noting that the only two versions of Windows Vista for which Microsoft and its PC makers provide downgrade rights are Vista Business and Ultimate -- and those must downgrade to XP Professional. I'd think similar limitations would be likely with Windows 7.)

The AppleInsider report claimed that Microsoft and HP had agreed to provide downgrade rights from October (one rumored launch target for Windows 7) and April 30, 2010. Microsoft officials did not comment on whether either date is real. And HP didn't respond to my request for comment at all. (I am doubtful about the April 30th deadline. Why only provide downgrade rights for a handful of months?)

Update: The Microsoft spokesperson said the April 30 cu-off date in the original story is not something the company is ready to discuss. The exact quote: "No dates have been announced for the end of Windows 7 downgrade right facilitation to Windows XP."

Update No. 2: An HP spokesperson responded Monday afternoon, concurring with Microsoft's statement that Microsoft terms and conditions are consistent across OEMs. The spokesperson declined to provide any details, citing "confidentiality" of HP communications.

With Windows 7 looking good (even at this beta stage), why would users want to downgrade to XP, you may wonder. For many businesses, supporting a slew of different Windows releases is a nightmare. They'd prefer to have all their users on one (or possibly two) different versions.

If Microsoft ends up finding a way to insure that legacy Windows apps work on Windows 7 -- beyond supporting them with a combination of Virtual PC and MED-V, another option available only to users who buy Microsoft's Software Assurance licensing -- downgrading to an older version of Windows from Windows 7 could look a whole lot less appealing.

Meanwhile, in related news, TechARP -- the site that brought us the still-unconfirmed-but-likely-true report that Microsoft is planning to offer PC buyers a free upgrade from Vista to Windows 7 if they purchase new systems starting this summer -- is now reporting that users who downgrade to XP also will be eligible for free Win 7 upgrades via the Windows 7 Upgrade Option program.

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