There's nothing new about Windows downgrade rights

Microsoft allows business customers to exercise “downgrade rights” to install Windows XP. Does this somehow represents a surrender on Microsoft’s part to the operating system that won’t die? Nope. Here's the full story.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

I’ve been laughing out loud for days now as I read the astonishing number of comments and reactions to the revelation that Microsoft is going to allow some customers who buy Windows 7 on a new PC to exercise “downgrade rights” and replace their shiny new OS with Windows XP. The implication is that this somehow represents a surrender on Microsoft’s part to the operating system that won’t die, Windows XP.

Sorry, folks, this isn’t news. It’s the way business versions of Windows have been licensed for as long as I can remember. Many businesses run on proprietary software that might or might not work with a new operating system, so business customers who buy a new PC with a Windows license can choose to replace the installed copy of Windows with an older version.

You can see the current version of this clause if you look at the OEM license for Windows Vista Business or Ultimate. Section 14 reads as follows:

14. DOWNGRADE. Instead of using the software, you may use one of the following earlier versions:

  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional,
  • Microsoft Windows Professional x64 Edition, or
  • Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

This agreement applies to your use of the earlier versions. 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 this version of the software.

Ah, I can hear you saying now, “But this is different! With Windows 7, Microsoft is going to give its customers the option to skip Vista and go all the way back to XP. That proves that Windows Vista sucks!”

Uh, OK. By that logic, XP sucks 50% more than Vista. If you bought Windows XP Professional on a new PC, your downgrade rights included the option to replace it with any of three previous Windows editions: Windows 2000 Professional, Windows NT Workstation version 4.0, or Windows 98 (Second Edition). Thank goodness we didn't have blogs back in 2001, or they would have gone completely nuts over Section 1, paragraph 6 of the Windows XP Professional license terms:

Use of Previous Version Of Software. In lieu of installing and using Microsoft Windows XP Professional SOFTWARE, you may install, use, access, display and run ONE of the following versions: Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional, Microsoft Windows NT Workstation version 4.0 or Microsoft Windows 98 (Second Edition) ("Downgrade Software") on the COMPUTER, provided (1) you agree that Downgrade Software support will NOT be provided hereunder by Manufacturer, MS or Microsoft Corporation, their affiliates or subsidiaries: (2) you agree that neither Manufacturer, MS nor Microsoft Corporation will provide you with the Downgrade Software or media; (3) you may not loan, rent, lease, lend or otherwise transfer the CD or back-up copy of Microsoft Windows XP Professional to another end user, except as otherwise provided in the transfer provisions of this EULA….

If you’re a corporate customer with a Windows Vista Business or Enterprise license acquired through a volume licensing program, you have the right to install just about any business edition of Windows. A Microsoft-issued downgrade rights chart (Word format) lists your options:

[C]ustomers licensed for use of Windows Vista Enterprise are licensed for Windows Vista Business, and it can be downgraded to the Windows XP Professional, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows NT® 4.0, Windows NT 3.51, Windows 98, or Windows 95 operating system. You would not, however, be able to downgrade to Windows Vista Home Basic or Windows Vista Home Premium, Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition, or Microsoft Windows Millennium as those are different products and not considered previous versions of Windows Vista Business.

The exact license terms for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate have yet to be released, but when they are, you can expect to see wording that looks very much like the terms I listed above.

In other words, there’s nothing new here, folks.

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