This could be the start of a very bad precedent, or HP shooting itself in the foot once more after taking so many steps to get its act together.
According to HP's Windows 8 FAQ, customers can get Windows 7 instead of Windows 8 when they purchase a new system, but they won't get any support for Windows on it, although it will still support the hardware itself. The deal only applies to customers who purchase Windows 8 Pro, not the cheaper versions of the OS.
Downgrades are certainly nothing new. Major PC firms offer them as an option to corporate customers, who are not as quick to embrace a new operating system as consumers.
The practice took off late last decade after Vista proved a less than worthy successor to Windows XP. Customers hated it so much that every vendor had to offer Windows XP right up until Windows 7 hit the market in 2009, even though they had hoped to discontinue sales of XP years prior.
HP's FAQ says the following:
"HP does not recommend downgrading on any HP consumer desktop and notebook products. After October 26, 2012, HP consumer desktop and notebook products will ship only with Windows 8. Windows 7 will not be supported on these new platforms, and no drivers, apps, or Windows 7 content will be available through HP. If users choose to downgrade their HP consumer desktop or notebook system, HP will continue to support the hardware but if there is an issue where HP diagnostics are required OR it is determined that the loaded software or upgrade operating system is causing the issue, HP may suggest returning the system to the original Windows 8 OS that shipped with the computer."
HP is taking a chance here. If Windows 8 is shunned, it won't necessarily be because it's a dog like Vista was. From the initial benchmarks I've seen, Windows 8 performs similarly to Windows 7 on identical hardware. Regardless of your opinion of the product, Windows 8 is such a radical change that many firms will likely shun it in the near future.
So what if the competition doesn't match this policy? I saw no such policy on Dell's site, nor does Lenovo have one. If they don't adopt similar policies, you can bet Dell and Lenovo will use this as a competitive point with their corporate customers. I'm curious as to what HP has to say on this. So far no response from my contacts there but I'll let you know, along with whatever the other OEMs have to say.
UPDATE 3:00 p.m. ET 11/9/2012
HP has updated its FAQ to clarify that users can in fact downgrade to Windows 7, but that "HP has not tested all Windows 8 platforms for Windows 7 and we may not have your particular drivers available." From HP's FAQ:
Post updated by HP at 11/9/2012 9:30am PT time
Can I downgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 7?
Yes, customers can downgrade to Windows 7 and you will remain protected by HP product warranties.
However, HP has not tested all Windows 8 platforms for Windows 7 and we may not have your particular drivers available.
If you choose to install a different operating system (OS) and have a problem that requires HP support, you may need to restore the original OS to fully diagnose your problem.
Please check with HP Customer Care for questions related to your specific product.