One of the really nice things that users, especially business users have always counted upon is the ability to back pedal, and downgrade the operating system. This usually happens when a specific application has problems running on the new operating system, or the users are having a problem learning the changes that Microsoft has implemented. Never was this more important than with the release of Vista, which, for all of its other sins, had the fault of being incredibly resource hungry.

An entire cottage industry sprang up to revert customer’s machines to Windows XP.

Now with Windows 7, the hardware requirements are less, but the User Interface changes are many, as are the underpinning changes, some of which cannot be easily undone, and break applications written for Windows XP and 2000.  Microsoft hoped to counter this with the Windows XP Mode, for those users who purchase the upscale revisions of Windows, but did not count on a poor economy, making companies want to get off as cheaply as possible, and Intel, making chips that simply might not cooperate with the method of virtualization that Microsoft chose.

Now Computerworld states that Microsoft is planning to nix the downgrade rights to XP six months after the release of Windows 7. This does two things.It makes businesses that are on the cusp of an upgrade cycle jump quickly to get new hardware. It also means, second, that the companies purchasing will either use their downgrade rights to move to XP alone, or, in the other case, purchase an ‘improved’ copy of Windows 7, and then use the XP Mode. Either way, Microsoft wins, It sells lots of Windows 7 licenses to brag about, and makes upscale dollars on the premium versions of Windows – it certainly does not care that many copies of Windows 7 won’t actually be used.

As expected, Microsoft will let computer makers sell PCs with the aged Windows XP for six months after it releases Windows 7, a move that will confuse companies and make it tougher for them to manage their licensing, an analyst said today.

A slide from a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation that Computerworld has seen shows that the company plans to cut off OEMs’ XP downgrade rights six months after Windows 7 debuts, limiting computer makers’ moves after that to offering Vista-powered PCs.

Only computers that come with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate allow OEM downgrade rights, according to the slide. That set-up is similar to the one used for Vista, which can be downgraded to XP Professional only from Vista Business and Vista Ultimate. (Vista Business is the closest edition to the upcoming Windows 7 Professional in its feature set.)

What’s different with Windows 7, and what could potentially be a nightmarish headache for enterprises, is the six-month limitation on downgrades from Windows 7 to XP.

“Microsoft has never had this sort of limited time for downgrades, and we think it’s going to be a real mess,” said Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner.

It certainly will be, and this happens every time Microsoft gets a ‘better idea’ to milk the customer base.

With the Oct. 22 launch date that Microsoft has already announced — called “general availability” in its jargon — OEMs will presumably be allowed to ship XP-equipped systems through most of April, 2010. Previously a leaked Hewlett-Packard memo noted that Microsoft had given that computer maker the green light to offer XP downgrades until next April 30; two months ago, the company refused to confirm the HP memo’s contents.

The Computerworld article brings up another point or two that I, not being a corporate type, did not think of at first.

Silver outlined the Catch-22 as he sees it. “For an organization that’s trying to skip Vista, that means they really need to buy new PCs that they need to run on XP, and want to upgrade later to Windows 7, by April 21, 2010,” Silver said. “[But] since a lot of organizations won’t be ready for Windows 7 until later in 2010 or even early 2011, any PCs they buy from April 22, 2010 on, and until they are ready to deploy Windows 7, would need an upgrade license or [Software Assurance] to allow them to run Windows XP temporarily, and upgrade to Windows 7 later on.”

Corporations that subscribe to Software Assurance (SA) — Microsoft’s annuity-like upgrade guarantee program — or purchase Windows through volume licensing plans have downgrade rights from any edition, including Windows 7, to any previous version going as far back as Windows 95.

Milk from the user base, much more milk.

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