As Windows XP Deadline Looms, OEMs Turn To Downgrade Rights

In yet another sign of the market's resistance to Windows Vista, Dell Computer, Hewlett Packard, and Sony on Wednesday all confirmed plans to exercise the downgrade rights Microsoft offers with OEM versions of Windows Vista Business and Vista Ultimate in order to continue offering XP-equipped PCs to their customers.

Downgrade rights, which Microsoft also offers to volume licensing customers, give users the ability to roll back to the previous version of the product they're using. Downgrade rights have existed since 2001 for Windows, but many Microsoft partners say they've been seeing a recent uptick in the number of customers exercising downgrade rights to roll Vista back to XP Professional.

HP will sell PCs pre-installed with XP Professional on its business desktops, notebooks and workstations until July 30, 2009, a spokesperson for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor said in an email to ChannelWeb.

"After June 30, 2008, if a customer already has the XP image and license, HP also can also install that customer's image on their Vista Business systems through our HP PC Customization Services," the spokesperson said.

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Dell, Round Rock, Texas, plans to offer Windows XP Professional pre-installed on new PCs for customers that buy Vista Business or Vista Ultimate "for as long as Microsoft supports it," according to a Dell spokesperson, who declined to offer a more specific timeframe.

A Microsoft spokesperson said OEMs have been given the right to provide downgrade media for Windows XP with new Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate PCs until January 31, 2009, which is also the cutoff date for system builders.

OEMs appear to have different approaches to dealing with the time costs of performing the downgrade from Vista to XP Professional before shipment.

Dell is offering an in-house Windows XP Professional installation service free of charge for customers of its Latitude, OptiPlex and Dell Precision systems, and for a small fee to those who purchase Vostro and Dell XPS gaming systems, the spokesperson said.

However, HP is considering allowing channel partners to handle the downgrades, which makes sense for HP because of the time and expense involved in handling the downgrades, said one solution provider who asked not to be named.

"That would be a very positive development for the channel," said the source. HP couldn't be reached for comment.

Sony, which plans to stop selling PCs with XP Professional pre-installed on June 30, will continue to offer XP Professional on the Vaio BX, SZ and TZ models using downgrade rights until January 31, 2009, according to a Sony spokesperson.

"Consumers can either take it to our Back Stage service centers located in our retail stores to have the down grade done or do it themselves," said the Sony spokesperson, who declined to say whether this would be handled as a free or fee-based service.

Several solution providers told ChannelWeb they expect the frenzy over downgrade rights to intensify as the June 30 deadline approaches.

"I'm out in the field selling and most customers still aren't comfortable going with Vista, and so I think you're going to see other OEMs follow suit with the downgrade rights option," said the source.