Microsoft is treading a thin line with its decision to allow people to downgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 7 or Vista when they buy a PC with the new operating system -- and it might not pay off. For enterprises, it's clearly a good move, because many businesses will not want to gamble with an operating system designed more for tablets than PCs. But if consumers downgrade en masse, it will spell failure for the new operating system.
Downgrade rights will be critical to Windows 8's acceptance in the enterprise, but if they're exercised by consumers, it's a sign Microsoft's newest OS has pulled a "Vista," analysts said today.
Gartner analyst Michael Silver told Keizer:
"For enterprises, downgrade rights are tremendously important [for Windows 8]. Most of the traditional form factors -- desktops and notebooks -- will be downgraded. But if it gets so bad that consumers downgrade, that's a disaster for Microsoft. That means there's word in the public that [Windows 8] is just bad."
I agree with Silver that if many consumers downgrade from Windows 8 it will be a disaster. But I don't think it's likely. First off, only PCs with Windows 8 Pro pre-installed on them will be able to be downgraded. I'm betting that most consumers will buy the basic Windows 8 version rather than the more expensive Windows 8 Pro because they won't care about Pro features such as BitLocker encryption, Group Policy, and Remote Desktop server.
And Microsoft won't be offering much help to downgraders. As Computerworld notes, when it comes to downgrading, consumers and small businesses "are on their own, and by the downgrade rights Microsoft has set with the OEM edition of Windows 8 Pro, are responsible for obtaining the installation media for an older operating system." So few people will do it.
Still, the publicity around the downgrade rights is bad news for the operating system. Downgrade rights became a hot button issue during Vista's darkest days when the operating system received some of its heaviest criticism. That Microsoft is getting this attention about downgrade rights now, before the operating sytsem is available on new PCs, isn't a good sign.
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