Microsoft confirmed officially that it would allow Windows 7 customers to downgrade the operating system to not only Windows Vista but also Windows XP. The scenario is limited to the software giant's volume licensing customers, and does not involve end users. Windows 7 copies will come with what the Redmond company refers to as downgrade rights. These rights, stipulated in the End User License Agreement, enable buyers of Windows 7 to deploy and run Windows Vista or Windows XP instead, with the Service Packs best suited to their needs, under the Win 7 EULA. Essentially, customers that buy Windows 7 can use Vista or XP and not the next iteration of Windows under the same license agreement without paying any additional money to Microsoft, and while retaining the rights to scrape Vista or XP and embrace Windows 7, also without any extra costs.
“This is not the first time that Microsoft has offered downgrade rights to a version other than its immediate predecessor and our volume-license customers can always downgrade to any previous version of Windows,” a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to Mary Jo Foley.
In fact, it makes all the sense in the world for Microsoft to allow Windows 7 to be downgraded to Windows XP. Users that have skipped Vista, or that have used their Vista downgrade rights to stick to XP, have done so because their IT infrastructure was not ready to accommodate the successor of XP. And with XP owning over 60% of the operating system market, volume licensing customers are bound to continue not being ready for Windows 7.
In the end, hardware and software products that did not play nice with Vista will not play nice with Windows 7. The next version of Windows is not a panacea for hardware and software incompatibility issues with Windows platforms beyond XP. This is why it's critical for Microsoft to ensure that Windows XP users are able to buy Windows 7, but continue using XP until their environments will be adapted to Win 7. At that point in time, Windows 7 downgrade rights will permit them to make the jump to Vista's successor and toss XP, without any additional costs except the Win 7 licenses.
“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,” the Microsoft spokesperson added.
Business users must understand that Windows 7 downgrade rights should be exercised only as an integral part of an overall strategy to actually migrate their environment to the latest release of Windows, and not as an excuse to continue having access to XP, and running the eight-year-old operating system. With Windows 7 downgrade rights, Microsoft is effectively giving XP yet another reprieve, serving the platform to customers long after retail and OEM license sales have been discontinued. But at the same time, the company is cutting XP mainstream support on April 14, 2009, with extended support scheduled to last until April 8, 2014.
Apple Insider indicated the past week that HP had confirmed downgrade rights for Windows 7 Professional and pointed to April 2010 as the cutoff date for downgrades. Microsoft denied the validity of this deadline: “No dates have been announced for the end of Windows 7 downgrade right facilitation to Windows XP.”