Microsoft has yet to reveal its plans for "downgrades" from Windows 7, the in-development successor to Vista , noted Michael Silver , an analyst with Gartner. But the issue is just as important for Windows 7 as it has been for Vista.
[ Randall Kennedy recently called Microsoft's Windows 7 upgrade strategy disrespectful to IT | Peter Bruzzese, meanwhile, says Microsoft's strategy is the correct one | Test Center: Windows 7 benchmarks unmasked | Special report: Early looks at Windows 7. ]
"Downgrade rights are hugely important for Windows 7," said Silver. "Will Microsoft offer downgrades [from Windows 7] to XP? They've not answered that question yet. But it's really important."
Microsoft confirmed that it's not ready to spell out downgrades for the new OS. "Final decisions are still being made on details like end-user downgrade rights outlined in the applicable product license terms," a company spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
In Microsoft parlance, "downgrade" describes the Windows licensing rights that let users of newer versions replace it with an older edition without having to pay for another license. In effect, the license for the newer Windows is transferred to the older edition.
When Microsoft launched Vista in early 2007, it spelled out limited downgrade rights to the older Windows XP. Only buyers of PCs with pre-installed editions of Vista Business and Vista Ultimate could downgrade, and then only to Windows XP Professional. That path, however, became extremely popular as users balked at migrating to Vista, and instead bought new computers, then downgraded to XP Professional themselves or ordered systems that had been downgraded to XP at the factory.
Microsoft has recognized the continued popularity of XP in the Vista years. In the last three months of 2008, for example, it extended the availability of XP to both small and large computer makers, pushing out cut-off dates to the end of May and July 2009, respectively.