I've had a number of discussions over the past week over customer support and downgrade rights to Windows XP from Windows Vista, so here are a few points that may help clear things up.

It's been a busy couple of weeks, what with reviews last week and the Engineering Excellence - Trustworthy Computing Forum this week.  In that time, I've been pinged and discussed several times the misunderstandings on Windows XP: several customers contacted me, concerned that they would not be able to purchase computers with Windows XP after June 30th.  A couple of people were even concerned that support ends for Windows XP at the end of June.  Both of these are misconceptions and not generally true, and I'd like to call out a few resources to help people understand the options they have today and after June 30th. 

In short...

1. You will still be able to get Windows XP Professional installed on computers after June 30th.  This is more important for sysadmins who have a large current installation of Windows XP-based systems and have not yet migrated to Windows Vista. (See details below.) If you're a consumer, consider getting a new computer with Windows Vista installed: with Business and Ultimate, you have downgrade rights to XP Pro (see below).

2. After June 30, 2008, you will still be able to get support for Windows XP, for Service Pack 2 (SP2) and now SP3. My friend, Jared, sums it up pretty good on the Microsoft Support Lifecycle blog with this post...

"Support for Windows XP will continue, in accordance with the Microsoft Support Lifecycle policy.  This means that the Mainstream Support phase will end on April 14, 2009 and the Extended Support phase will end on April 8, 2014.  That’s at least another 6 years of support remaining for Windows XP!"

In short, if you have questions on Windows XP SP2 or SP3, you'll be fine (see this link for more details on the support lifecycle.  If you're still running Windows SP1, then consider updating your machine to SP2 or SP3, as support for SP1 and SP1a ends on October 10, 2006.

Next, let's specifically talk about the right you may have (depending on the OS product purchased) to downgrade your OEM versions of Windows Vista Business and Vista Ultimate to Windows XP.  There are options available from some OEMs to specify a downgrade to and have Windows XP pre-installed when you order a new PC with one of these flavours of Windows Vista (varies from OEM to OEM).

Last month, Kevin McLaughlin of ChannelWeb noted that as we near the June 30th date, "OEMs Turn To Vista Downgrade Rights."  This is nothing new, as Kevin accurately notes...

"... 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."

OEMs and Microsoft (see this info on downgrading from February 2007, in pdf) have explained the downgrade rights that customers have, which give you the ability to use a previous version version of the OS (or other products). 

This from the Windows Vista Downgrade Rights Reference Sheet...

Downgrade rights are an end-user right and are documented in the product License Terms or End-User License Agreement (EULA) and refer to the ability of your customers to acquire the most recent version of Microsoft® operating system software but continue to run a previous version until they are ready to move to the new operating system version.

What software versions qualify for downgrade rights?
Not all versions of software contain downgrade rights. The chart below shows the OEM desktop operating system software versions that contain downgrade rights in the product License Terms and the version of software the end user can downgrade to.

The OEM versions of Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Ultimate include downgrade rights to Microsoft Windows XP Professional, Microsoft Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, and Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Customers may not downgrade to Windows 2000 Professional from Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate.

Windows OS Downgrade Rights 

A couple of the Frequently Asked Questions...

Q. Who can install the downgrade software or reinstall the original software?
A. An OEM (when authorized by end user), or the end user.

Q. Can end users return to Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate software after they downgrade?
A. Yes. End users who downgrade may reinstall the original software when they are ready to migrate. For example, an end user who downgrades to Windows XP Professional may later return to Windows Vista Business software provided that the end user deletes the Windows XP Professional software from the PC.

You'll also still be able to buy PCs with Windows XP until January 31, 2009 from System Builders, and Windows XP Home Edition on Ultra Low-Cost PCs until June 30, 2010, or one year after the general availability of the next version of Windows as noted on the Windows Lifecycle page.

If you are a volume license customer, see the Microsoft Select License, Open License, Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) License, and Full-Packaged Product (FPP) License Downgrade Rights (Word doc).  This document calls out the downgrade rights to prior versions of Microsoft software, and has a handy chart comparing the different Volume Licensing downgrade rights (as of January 2007; VL customers may obtain a current copy from their account team).

For more information, see also...

A final note: if you purchase your new PC with Vista pre-installed, and are considering downgrading to Windows XP, please ensure that your various peripherals and components have drivers for Windows XP. As Toshiba Canada notes in this support document (TSB001425)...

"Toshiba of Canada Limited will supply drivers and software components to applicable models that comes preinstalled with Windows Vista Business. Please check the model and SKU number on the download and drivers section first to make sure the notebook has XP drivers and software components before purchasing the notebook computer."

Tags: Microsoft, customer support, feedback, customer service, Windows XP, SP3, Windows Vista, Vista SP1.