However, Silver is not optimistic that Microsoft will continue the practice and allow customers with Windows 7 licenses to transfer them to XP. "We're extremely confident that Microsoft will offer free downgrade rights [from Windows 7] to Vista," said Silver. "But will Microsoft do the right thing for customers and give them downgrade rights to XP, or will it try to get some additional revenue out of the situation? At this point, it's hard to tell."
Saying he's somewhat "on the fence" about whether Microsoft would, in fact, offer downgrades from Windows 7 to XP, he quickly added, "I think that there's a slightly better chance that they won't."
The problem facing businesses still running Windows XP, said Silver, is that without downgrade rights they would be forced to make a very tough choice when Windows 7 debuts, and presumably sweeps Vista from new PCs.
"For companies running XP that don't have Software Assurance, no downgrade rights means they will have to get machines pre-installed with Vista," he said, describing the first 12 to 18 months after Windows 7's launch. That's when business typically swear off a new operating system as they test it and their applications, or simply wait out the inevitable bugs that pop up early in an OS's life.
"For the first year or so of Windows 7, organizations using XP will either have to buy Software Assurance or pay for a [Windows 7] upgrade later for those Vista machines," said Silver.
Microsoft's Software Assurance, a type of "buyer protection" program that gives companies rights to all upgrades for a specified period in exchange for annual payments, also allows corporate administrators to freely downgrade any edition of Windows.
Silver's doubt about Microsoft's plans for Windows 7 downgrade rights stems in part from hints by the company about sticking to a Vista-only policy. "If it offers only downgrades to Vista, Microsoft will try to say that it's policy [to limit downgrades] only to the last version," he said. "But that's not true. With XP, they gave downgrades to [Windows] 2000 and [Windows] NT 4.0 and [Windows] 98. In other words, there is precedent for downgrades to more than just one version."
Although Microsoft has revealed some details about Windows 7, including the multiple versions it expects to distribute, it continues to keep other information secret, including the prices it will charge for the new OS and the eventual ship date.
As of earlier today, Microsoft has halted all downloads of Windows 7 beta, the only preview it's offered to the general public. Steven Sinofsky, the senior vice president in charge of the Windows engineering group, however, has said that the company will move directly to a release candidate , and skip the usual multiple betas.
Computerworld is an InfoWorld affiliate.