by Shane O'Neill

Attention Microsoft: ‘Downgrade’ Is Not a Dirty Word to Users

Feb 19, 20094 mins
Data Center

Microsoft has extended its downgrade/license deadline for Windows XP so many times now that I think XP will conflict with the next five versions of Windows. I can see the 2019 headline now: “Angry Users Demand Downgrades from Windows 11 to XP.”

The dreaded D-word has been attached to Microsoft in news stories over the past few weeks. A California woman is suing the software giant over a $60 XP downgrade charge; Microsoft issued a denial that it profits from XP downgrades; and the debate has arisen over whether it will offer Windows 7-to-XP downgrades.

“Downgrade” is never a good word for a software company to hear. In fact, nearly all words containing “down” are negative: downtrodden, downhearted, downbeat, downfall, down-and-out, downsize, downturn, down-hill, downcast. “Down-to-earth” is about the only positive one I can think of.

A new Microsoft blog called “Windows for your Business” offers useful advice for businesses planning Windows upgrades, but the rather unsubtle message that comes through is that everyone needs to get off XP, like now, and whether they jump to Vista or Windows 7 doesn’t matter.

It’s become clear that Microsoft wants users to run XP about as much as it wants typhoid fever to spread through the buildings in Redmond.

But it’s irrelevant what Microsoft wants. Corporate buyers have the power and if they want to stay with Windows XP they will, says Rob Enderle, president of technology consulting firm The Enderle Group

“Microsoft is in a tough situation. There was never a big event or compelling reason to push businesses off XP. By providing downgrade options, Microsoft may have dug a hole for themselves,” says Enderle.

Maybe Microsoft could try to cut off availability of Windows versions when their time is up, the way Apple does with OS X. I bet Microsoft’s OEMs such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard would be in favor of that.

But it wouldn’t work. Unlike Apple, Microsoft is beholden to corporations who use many of Microsoft’s products all in one place. They would revolt against such a move, as they revolted by refusing to adopt Vista. (Enterprise use of Vista still hangs at a woeful 10 percent two years after its release, according to Forrester’s latest numbers).

Consumers, however, are a different story. Going through the trouble and cost of downgrading a new laptop to an old operating system is counter-productive, says Enderle.

“Running XP on a machine designed for Vista or Windows 7 could have serious compatibility problems,” says Enderle. “And good luck getting help and support.”

Downgrading to XP might have made sense a year ago before Vista SP1, but not now. Vista SP1 has been proven to be secure and stable and it’s sold on hardware that can handle it. I bought one recently and it’s rock solid.

Which brings me to Emma Alvarado, the woman who is suing Microsoft over a $59.25 fee for downgrading a Lenovo laptop from Vista to XP last June. Ms. Alvarado seems more like a crafty opportunist capitalizing on bad Vista press than someone genuinely concerned for her fellow consumers. I can’t help but be reminded of the woman who spilled hot coffee on herself in 1994 and sued the hell out of McDonald’s … and won a reported $640,000.

It’s not even clear if Alvarado is suing the right company. Computer manufacturers like Dell and Lenovo are the ones that charge users the downgrading fee because they have to reconfigure Vista machines to run XP at their factories.

Microsoft says it does not profit from downgrade fees, but make no mistake, it still profits. The way downgrade rules are structured, only users who buy the most expensive versions of Vista (Business and Ultimate) are allowed downgrade to XP, and then only to the most expensive version of XP (Professional). So if you want to downgrade to XP you have to upgrade Vista first.

Do you have a headache yet? I do.

It kind of makes me want to saunter over to the nearest Apple store and float around in a world where there is one version of the OS, nobody downgrades, and hardware and software are in lock-step.

But Microsoft lives in a more complicated world than consumer-slap happy Apple, and is hand-cuffed to the desires of its diverse customers. Right now, those desires include sticking with or downgrading to an eight-year-old operating system. What a downer.