Do XP users really face a potential Windows 7 downgrade licensing trap?

Microsoft may impose April 23 cutoff for Windows 7 to XP downgrade licenses

Microsoft is known for some rather draconian licensing policies. The company will sell you just about any combination of its products you want, but creates extremely unfavorable pricing options when what you want isn't what it wants you to want. Even so, it seems unlikely that the dire warnings analysts have issued about a licensing trap from XP to Windows 7 will come to fruition.

The problem, says Gartner analyst Michael Silver, is that Microsoft is only offering a licensing downgrade path from Windows 7 to XP on new computers for the first six months after Windows 7 ships -- so that would be until April 23. If you've been sitting on a bunch of falling apart, aging desktops and you need new ones pronto, you can buy Windows 7 PCs before April 23, downgrade to XP and then your license will let you upgrade to Windows 7 on those same machines when you are ready. After that, Microsoft may plan to only support a downgrade from Windows 7 to Vista. There's an exception, of course, the favored customers that spend the extra money for Software Assurance. Those folks can downgrade to XP after April 23. (Sometimes the Software Assurance program seems like the best thing since sliced bread, with special software only available for SA customers. Other times it appears to be akin to a protection racket ... buy it or suffer the consequences.)

The anti-Microsoft argument is that companies won't get the time they need to complete a cutover from XP to Windows 7 unless they can do it in six months time. And we do have to agree with the thought that Microsoft would better serve its customers if it could just relax a little about which operating system they use. If they want their new machines to run XP for another 18 months, and they buy the new enterprise licenses, is it really that much of a hardship on Microsoft?

On the other hand, it also is a bit much to ask Microsoft to endlessly woo XP users to Windows 7. The operating system will already ship with XP Mode. Microsoft has been as transparent as possible in shipping early versions and allowing testing. Enterprises that buy PCs within six months can take their time with a cutover. And there's always the chance that Microsoft won't enforce this policy in any meaningful way when its facing an enterprise ready to sign a meaty contract, if only it could get a downgrade to XP after April 23.

Then again, enterprises can simply not mess with rolling out new computers with an old operating system. They can wait until they are ready to upgrade, then roll out the new machines with the new operating system at once -- just as they have been doing for decades.

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