Microsoft will allow only limited rights for those who buy a Windows 7 PC to go back to Windows XP, according to an analyst who said he has been briefed on Microsoft's plans. According to Gartner analyst Michael Silver, Microsoft plans to only allow the downgrade option to those who buy PCs during the first six months that Windows 7 is on the market (see update below). After that, Microsoft's proposed licensing terms would allow buyers of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate only to go back to the comparable Windows Vista edition.
That could put users, particularly small businesses, in a bind. That's because many businesses want the right to go to Windows 7 without having to pay more, but will need longer than six months to test the new operating system. "This becomes an important issue," Silver said, noting that many businesses haven't been running Vista at all and plan to jump from Windows XP to Windows 7. "The ones that skipped Windows Vista need to be able to run Windows XP and later run Windows 7 and would like to not have to pay Microsoft for that (on new machines that they are buying)."
Businesses that have volume license deals for Windows or a software assurance contract would be able to move back to Windows XP even if they bought their Windows 7 PCs after six months, Silver said. A Microsoft representative was not immediately available for comment (see update below). The company had said it would allow downgrades with Windows 7, but has not gone into great detail.
Downgrade rights, though they also existed with Windows XP, came into prominence with Windows Vista as a broad array of users, from consumers to small and mid-size businesses to corporations, all looked to buy new machines that could run Windows XP. Silver said he doesn't expect as many people will buy Windows 7 machines with the intent of permanently staying on XP, but he said businesses need more than six months to make the move.
"I think it will be more temporary than with Vista," he said, referring to the downgrade phenomenon. "With Vista, a lot of people brought in machines with XP and had no intention (to move to Vista) or eventually lost that inclination to upgrade to Vista." Silver also said the six-month rule will create a huge administrative headache for businesses trying to determine which of their machines can legally run XP.