Microsoft has yet to reveal its plans for 'downgrades' from Windows 7, the successor to Vista, noted Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner. But the issue is just as important for Windows 7 as it has been for Vista.
"Downgrade rights are hugely important for Windows 7," said Silver. "Will Microsoft offer downgrades [from Windows 7] to XP? They've not answered that question yet. But it's really important."
Microsoft confirmed that it's not ready to spell out downgrades for the new OS. "Final decisions are still being made on details like end-user downgrade rights outlined in the applicable product licence terms," a company spokeswoman said.
Windows 7 could be released by the end of 2009
In Microsoft parlance, 'downgrade' describes the Windows licensing rights that let users of newer versions replace it with an older edition without having to pay for another licence. In effect, the licence for the newer Windows is transferred to the older edition.
When Microsoft launched Vista in early 2007, it spelled out limited downgrade rights to the older Windows XP. Only buyers of PCs with pre-installed editions of Vista Business and Vista Ultimate could downgrade, and then only to Windows XP Professional. That path, however, became extremely popular as users balked at migrating to Vista, and instead bought new computers, then downgraded to XP Professional themselves or ordered systems that had been downgraded to XP at the factory.
Microsoft has recognised the continued popularity of XP in the Vista years. In the last three months of 2008, for example, it extended the availability of XP to both small and large computer makers, pushing out cut-off dates to the end of May and July 2009, respectively.
However, Silver is not optimistic that Microsoft will continue the practice and allow customers with Windows 7 licences to transfer them to XP. "We're extremely confident that Microsoft will offer free downgrade rights [from Windows 7] to Vista," said Silver. "But will Microsoft do the right thing for customers and give them downgrade rights to XP, or will it try to get some additional revenue out of the situation? At this point, it's hard to tell."
Saying he's somewhat "on the fence" about whether Microsoft would, in fact, offer downgrades from Windows 7 to XP, he quickly added, "I think that there's a slightly better chance that they won't."