Microsoft's Windows 7-to-XP downgrade plan a 'real mess,' says analyst

Gartner expert blasts Microsoft over OEM's six-month downgrade window

As expected, Microsoft will let computer makers sell PCs with the aged Windows XP for six months after it releases Windows 7, a move that will confuse companies and make it tougher for them to manage their licensing, an analyst said today.

A slide from a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation that Computerworld has seen shows that the company plans to cut off OEMs' XP downgrade rights six months after Windows 7 debuts, limiting computer makers' moves after that to offering Vista-powered PCs.

Only computers that come with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate allow OEM downgrade rights, according to the slide. That set-up is similar to the one used for Vista, which can be downgraded to XP Professional only from Vista Business and Vista Ultimate. (Vista Business is the closest edition to the upcoming Windows 7 Professional in its feature set.)

What's different with Windows 7, and what could potentially be a nightmarish headache for enterprises, is the six-month limitation on downgrades from Windows 7 to XP.

"Microsoft has never had this sort of limited time for downgrades, and we think it's going to be a real mess," said Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner.

With the Oct. 22 launch date that Microsoft has already announced -- called "general availability" in its jargon -- OEMs will presumably be allowed to ship XP-equipped systems through most of April, 2010. Previously a leaked Hewlett-Packard memo noted that Microsoft had given that computer maker the green light to offer XP downgrades until next April 30; two months ago, the company refused to confirm the HP memo's contents. Silver outlined the Catch-22 as he sees it. "For an organization that's trying to skip Vista, that means they really need to buy new PCs that they need to run on XP, and want to upgrade later to Windows 7, by April 21, 2010," Silver said. "[But] since a lot of organizations won't be ready for Windows 7 until later in 2010 or even early 2011, any PCs they buy from April 22, 2010 on, and until they are ready to deploy Windows 7, would need an upgrade license or [Software Assurance] to allow them to run Windows XP temporarily, and upgrade to Windows 7 later on."

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