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How to downgrade from Windows 8 (Hint: The first step is to know your rights)

Paul Rubens | March 15, 2013
For a variety of reasons, some businesses are looking to downgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 7. The good news is that Microsoft's business licenses come with downgrade rights, but the catch is that the rules can be tricky and compliance could become an issue. Here are some clarifications on your rights when downgrading from Windows 8 or standardizing on noncurrent Microsoft software.

Dissatisfaction with Windows 8 is prompting increasing numbers of Microsoft customers to ditch the new operating system and downgrade their computers to Windows 7.

Because home computer users often like to run the latest Microsoft software releases, this kind of downgrade activity wouldn't be likely for consumers. But for business users there are many reasons to downgrade a Microsoft application or operating system and run an earlier version than the one that you actually paid for.

The good news is that most of Microsoft's business licenses come with downgrade rights. In general, these entitle the owner of a product license to install and run an earlier version and equivalent edition of the same product in its place, according to Rob Horowitz, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. By downgrading, a customer does not forfeit the right to switch to the licensed, more recent, version at some point in the future, he says.

The most common reason for exercising downgrade rights stems from the fact that Microsoft typically doesn't continue to sell older versions of its software once newer versions are released. That means that if you want to standardise on a noncurrent version and plan to upgrade at a slower pace than Microsoft's upgrade cycle, then you may have no option but to purchase the current version and then downgrade to the version you have standardized on. For example, if you want to deploy a new server running Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition, you would have to purchase Windows Server 2012 Standard Edition (the current version) and exercise your version downgrade rights.

But it turns out that Microsoft's rules on the matter are complex in the extreme. That's a problem because if you break them you could face a large and unforeseen licensing bill next time your company is audited.

"Microsoft's rules have changed over time to accommodate innovations such as chips with multiple cores, the Internet and virtualization," says Horowitz. "But when you change things you inevitably make them more complex, and that certainly seems to be the case with Microsoft's downgrade rights."

Windows 8 Downgrade Rights for Businesses

So what are your downgrade rights? The answer depends on how you acquired the license to a particular product in the first place. If you acquired it through a volume licensing program then that has the maximum flexibility: You can generally downgrade to any previous version of the product. For server software this applies to the client access licenses (CALs) too--a SQL Server 2012 CAL may be used to license access to SQL Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 or any previous version.

When it comes to OEM licenses--which would apply if your organization has recently bought a number of new laptops preloaded with Windows 8, for example--then things are a little bit stricter. Consumer versions of Windows have no downgrade rights, but the Professional versions (such as Windows 8 Pro , Windows 7 Professional or Windows Vista Business) have rights to downgrade to the two previous versions.


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