Last week Microsoft revealed to selected members of the press their plan for downgrades to Windows 7. Probably least interesting is that for ordinary PC buyers:
According to Microsoft, those buying the Professional or Ultimate editions of Windows 7 with new PCs from OEMs will have the option to downgrade to the XP Professional edition only, provided that the PCs get purchased before April 22, 2011.
A Microsoft spokesperson explained in an e-mail on Wednesday that the XP downgrade option will be in effect for "PCs that ship within 18 months following the general availability of Windows 7 [namely, before April 22, 2011] or until the release of a Windows 7 service pack, whichever is sooner and if a service pack is developed."
I expect that most consumers don’t care and that this is mostly of interest to small businesses that have some compelling reason to stick with XP for a while. Most usage of downgrade rights in my experience is by large enterprises with volume licenses and IT shops that install custom preloads on their PCs. For them, it’s business as usual:
The rules are a little different for those buying Windows 7 through Microsoft’s Windows Volume Licensing program. If they pay extra for Microsoft’s Software Assurance program, they have "full flexibility to upgrade or downgrade their PCs to older or newer versions of Windows," according to the Microsoft spokesperson.
The ability to downgrade Windows is of particular importance to organizations that need to run older so-called "legacy" applications. These organizations may use custom-built applications running on XP and may need more time before upgrading the OS, either for technical reasons, budgetary reasons or both.
XP is still the primary Windows OS choice among enterprise users. Just 10 percent of enterprises switched from XP to Vista, according to Forrester Research.
Nobody ever got fired by sticking with Windows XP. We’ll see if and when Windows 7 changes the enterprise rules.
Today Microsoft Corp. has reached a significant milestone with the Release Candidate (RC) of the highly anticipated Windows 7 operating system, now available for download to MSDN and TechNet subscribers at http://technet.microsoft.com. Broader public availability will begin May 5 on the Microsoft Download Center at http://microsoft.com/downloads.
As for what’s new, Microsoft did reveal a virtual Windows XP mode to apparently alleviate lingering Vista compatibility problems presumably for business users (e.g. ):
Utilizing Windows Virtual PC, Windows XP Mode allows Windows 7 users to run many Windows XP productivity applications, launched right from the Windows 7 desktop. Windows XP Mode will be available to Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate customers via download or, for the best experience, pre-installed directly on new PCs. As part of today’s announcement, Microsoft is releasing the beta of Windows XP Mode and Windows Virtual PC.
Windows 7 Enterprise users also get XP mode as part of a broader management package. Note that the Windows XP mode seems to be lagging the rest of Windows 7 as it is only labeled a beta.
So if there are no show stoppers discovered in the release candidate, when will Windows 7 be released? Microsoft isn’t saying, but there are lots of signs and portents like the following:
Although Microsoft Corp. refuses to name a delivery date for Windows 7, it could launch the new operating system as early as August, according to timeline comparisons of significant dates for Windows XP and Windows Vista.
Acer has confirmed that Windows 7 will be available pre-loaded on their new all-in-one Z5600 PC from the 23 October 2009, not by the end of January 2010 as Microsoft has been previously suggesting.
Acer also confirmed to us that any Vista-based models purchased in the 30 days prior to this date will be eligible for Microsoft’s free upgrade programme.
It looks like Microsoft will actually hit the Christmas shopping season.
Finally, while the general expectation is that Windows 7 will finally be the replacement for Windows XP that Vista wasn’t, Microsoft is apparently allowing OEMs more time to offer Windows XP as a downgrade although it isn’t clear whether this applies to Windows 7 as well as Vista. More ominously for the severely limited Windows 7 Starter Edition, Microsoft is allowing netbook manufacturers to install Windows XP for a full year after general availability of Windows 7.
Microsoft has announced an extension to the deadline for the small PC assemblers called system builders to be able to get Windows XP. Previously, system builder XP availability was scheduled to end on January 31, 2009, but now Microsoft has instituted "a flexible inventory program that will allow system builders to place their final orders for Windows XP licenses by Jan. 31 and take delivery through May 30:
Distributors say the best part of the new arrangement is that they won’t have to take title to the reserved XP licenses until they’re sold to an end user, which helps them avoid having to sit on inventory for several months, which is a major concern in a low-margin business.
"This is a good solution to support the customers that are standardized still on XP," said Michael Schwab, co-president of D&H Distributing, Harrisburg, Pa. "In this case, people contemplated buying in larger quantities [of XP licenses] and holding on to them. But that would have caused a bubble [from] people buying five months of supply in January."
D&H and other distributors are currently talking to their largest customers to come up with demand forecasts. This work is taking on added importance, since most Microsoft channel partners believe that Microsoft will stick to its Jan. 31, 2009, XP deadline.
"I think that deadline is fixed in stone," said Schwab.
It is all more of the continuing fallout from Windows Vista’s less than sterling reputation, a problem that Microsoft hopes to cure with the delivery of Windows 7. The new May 30th cutoff lends more credence to the rumors that Windows 7 may actually arrive in mid-2009.
Today at Computex, Microsoft Corp. announced that following the success of Windows on netbooks, the Windows offering is being extended to include nettop devices. Netbooks are commonly referred to as ultralow-cost PCs (ULCPCs) and were originally intended for students and other first-time PC customers in emerging markets. Nettop refers to desktops that are ultralow-cost.
I guess some head shaping for the PR staff went on after the April announcement which prominently mentioned Windows XP Home. Today’s announcement confusingly mentions only generic Windows except for one partner quote. So what’s the reason for the enlarged reprieve?
Customers are asking for Windows on these devices because the experience is familiar to existing PC users and easy to learn for customers who are new to computing. Customers want to be able to take advantage of the wide range of applications, devices and online experiences supported by Windows today. Microsoft partners also appreciate Windows-based solutions for these computers because they already know how to build and support high-quality systems that are powered by Windows.
And they can’t do any of those things with Vista apparently, presumably because of its considerable heft, and don’t want Linux sneaking in. One would also guess that the definition of ultralow-cost PC is subject to some negotiation.
So, here’s what the end of life plan for Windows XP currently looks like based on today’s announcement and the Microsoft Volume Licensing Brief, the Royalty OEM Reference Sheet, and the License Availability Roadmap:
- No XP retail availability after June 30, 2008
- No XP OEM (large PC manufacturer) availability after June 30, 2008 except:
- No XP volume purchase licenses after June 30, 2008, but volume purchasers and System Assurance subscribers can always downgrade to XP as long they have the appropriate media.
- No System Builder (smaller PC assemblers) XP availability after January 31, 2009.