On Monday, Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc announced on the official Windows Blog that the beta versions of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 had just been released to the public. Buried in that announcement was an interesting tidbit, quite unrelated, commiting Microsoft to extending its deadline for "downgrade" rights to Windows XP:
[W]e have decided to extend downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional beyond the previously planned end date [to coincide with the release of] Windows 7 SP1 ... the OEM versions of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate will continue to include downgrade rights to the similar versions of Windows Vista or Windows XP Professional. Going forward, businesses can continue to purchase new PCs and utilize end user downgrade rights to Windows XP or Windows Vista until they are ready to use Windows 7. Enabling such rights throughout the Windows 7 life cycle will make it easier for customers as they plan deployments to Windows 7.
The announcement doesn't mean anything to companies that have paid for Microsoft's Software Assurance plan -- those folks have "downgrade" rights to just about anything. But for companies without Software Assurance, the extension means there's more time to buy new PCs with Windows 7 Pro or Ultimate preloaded, then install fully licensed Windows XP on those PCs, without having to pay more for XP.
If you work in an XP-only shop, where old PCs are rapidly turning into boat anchors and the powers that be refuse to sludge into the 21st century, that change could save quite a few shekels.
Note that LeBlanc didn't say exactly when this new Windows XP downgrade offer would end. Instead of a hard-and-fast date, we merely read that the offer was good "throughout the Windows 7 life cycle."
Several industry observers interpreted that "life cycle" phrase to mean that the Windows XP "downgrade" offer would last until the (anticipated) cut-off date for Microsoft's official support of the corresponding product. Windows 7 Pro is currently scheduled to go off life support in January 2020 so, for example, Computerworld's Gregg Keizer, in his article "Microsoft to keep XP alive until 2020," figured that meant companies could count on free Windows XP Pro downgrades until January 2020, at which point XP would no longer qualify as geriatric, presumably, but lapse into abject decrepitude. It's hard to beat free, eh?
LeBlanc shot back the next day. He updated his post to say:
[C]ustomers will not be able to buy a Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate PC with end user downgrade rights after Windows 7 reaches the end of sales date in the OEM channel -- which according to the current Windows Lifecycle policy is 2 years after the next version of Windows ships.
Most industry observers figure Windows chief Steve Sinofsky will get Windows 8 (by whatever name) out the door in time for Christmas 2012. If he hits that date, LeBlanc is saying that you have until late 2014 to buy a new PC with Windows 7 Pro or Ultimate pre-installed, and hobble it to Windows XP Pro or Ultimate, for free.
You just have to find somebody who remembers how to install XP.
Looking for a Windows reference that doesn't toe the Microsoft party line? Check out Woody's "Windows 7 All-in-One for Dummies." Irreverent. Fun. Accurate.
This article, "Sorry, but Windows XP 'downgrades' won't be available through 2020," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.