For Microsoft, having to repeatedly extend the date at which PC OEMs will no longer be able to sell a Windows 7 PC "downgraded" to run the almost ten-year-old Windows XP must seem eerily like the return of the undead.
That must be especially true this week when a company spokesperson explained that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has again extended that date, a shift likely to be important to PC managers if they still want the ability to downgrade to XP.
"An OEM's ability to generally offer downgrade facilitation options (e.g., preinstalling Windows XP Professional on a new PC that includes end-user rights for Windows 7 Professional) ends on Oct. 22, 2010," Brandon LeBlanc, a Microsoft spokesperson, said in a post to the Windows Blog Tuesday.
For years, Microsoft has offered downgrade rights -- the ability for a volume customer to buy PCs that come preloaded with a new version of Windows but have it delivered with the previous version. Until the January 2007 launch of Windows Vista, which proved to be unpopular with many corporate customers, however, the offer didn't have a lot of takers.
Instead, with the advent of Vista, many -- Microsoft isn't saying how many -- customers began buying Vista machines and downgrading them to run XP. The downgrade option became so popular that Microsoft had to extend the cutoff date at least twice.
In his blog post, LeBlanc provided some explanation for Microsoft's latest change of heart.
"Prior to shipping Windows 7, we communicated that end-user downgrade rights provided in the software license terms of Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate editions preinstalled on a new PC would allow a customer to downgrade to either Windows XP Professional or similar Windows Vista versions for 18 months, or until the availability of SP1 [Windows 7 Service Pack 1], whichever came sooner," he said. "We have decided to extend downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional beyond the previously planned end date at Windows 7 SP1. This will help maintain consistency for downgrade rights throughout the Windows 7 lifecycle."
Windows 7 SP1 began public beta testing on Monday. Microsoft has not yet said when it plans commercial release of Windows 7 SP1.
However, Oct. 22 isn't necessarily the last date that a customer can leverage their downgrade rights, according to a second company spokesperson.
"Customers will not be able to buy a PC with downgrade rights to XP after Windows 7 is retired from market -- which according to policy is two years after the next version of Windows is shipped," the spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.
"However, if you have a PC with Windows 7 already installed when that deadline hits, the downgrade right doesn't expire -- it's there as long as you own the PC. You just can't buy a new PC with the downgrade right after Windows 7 is retired from the OEM channel," the spokesperson said.
Microsoft has not said when it plans to ship Windows 8 -- the term that many industry watchers have coined for the next release of Windows. It's expected to debut approximately three years after Windows 7 shipped on October 22, 2009.
In the meantime, all support expired on Tuesday for Windows XP SP2, by far the most popular release of XP. PC managers will need to upgrade XP SP2 PCs to either XP SP3, which is still supported until April 8, 2014, or upgrade those PCs to Windows 7.