Windows XP Downgrade Licensing
Recently while helping out with a Windows 7 event at a training center here in the Twin Cities, I got into a discussion with one of the attendees who was planning the move from XP to Windows 7 for his company. In particular he was expressing concern about the loss of support for Windows XP, and one of his main concerns was related to his perception that the end of support for XP also meant that he would no longer be able to legally install Windows XP.
That prompted me to ask some questions and do some research into whether he was right or not. Does the end of support mean that he would not be able to install XP via his enterprise deployment system? In my research, it appears that he may have confused the lack of ability to purchase Windows XP with the unrelated issue of can he legally install it. He did not take into account OS Downgrade Rights.
In layman’s terms “downgrade rights” is the ability to purchase a newer operating system license, and then downgrade that license to allow you to install an earlier OS. For example, you can purchase Vista or Windows 7 and then use the downgrade rights to install Windows XP…even though the license you purchased is for the newer OS.
BTW…let me make one thing clear now before I am misunderstood in this post…I am not advocating staying on Windows XP. I made the move to Windows 7 at the Release Candidate stage. It was rock solid then, and the RTM is equally rock solid. For that matter…I ran Vista on my production laptop starting at Beta 2…and was very happy with it. This post is not telling anyone to stick with XP…it is simply intended to clarify the licensing issues of what you can do if you have a business need for some systems to stay on XP. (i.e. you have older machines that may not be capable of running Vista/Win7 that will stay in use for a while longer…and you still need the ability to image them as needed.) So…with all that said…
Downgrade rights can be broken out into two categories based on whether you have a Volume License agreement with Microsoft or not. If you have a VL agreement (Enterprise Agreement or a Select Agreement with Software Assurance on Windows), your downgrade rights are practically limitless. The quote from the Downgrade Rights Volume Licensing Brief (this refers to Vista, but my assumption is that Windows 7 Enterprise would also fall under this…although it should be noted that this is my assumption…not anything I have seen officially in writing from Microsoft):
If I have Windows Vista Enterprise, what can I downgrade to?
Downgrade rights in the Volume Licensing programs provide customers with the right to downgrade to any prior version of the same product. Windows Vista Enterprise is a new type of product and does not have a prior version. However, customers 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.
If you don’t have a Volume License agreement and your desktop OS license is from the OEM, you fall under the Downgrade Rights for OEM customers. This is a different section of that document that provides a limited time frame for how long your the OEM Downgrade Rights last. Essentially, the OEM Downgrade rights are for 18 months after the General Availability of Windows 7 or the release of a Windows 7 Service Pack…whichever is earlier. GA was October 22, 2009, which would make the cutoff April 22, 2011 unless a SP is released earlier than that. From the brief linked above:
Can I downgrade my OEM version of Windows 7 Professional to Windows XP Professional?
For a limited time of 18 months after the general availability of Windows 7 or the release of a Windows 7 Service Pack, whichever is earlier, the OEM license of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate will include downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional. After that period the OEM license will enable downgrade rights to Windows Vista Business.
Okay…so that covers downgrade from Windows 7 to XP. The other question for companies who have a desire to continue to roll out XP would be related to Windows Vista. Vista will continue to have downgrade rights to XP…so when will Microsoft stop selling Vista…because technically you could still purchase Vista and downgrade to XP after the 18 month cutoff mentioned above…if they are still selling Vista at that point.
So…hopefully that makes the downgrade rights issue a bit clearer than mud.