Microsoft calls shots on XP downgrades, says Dell

From Computerworld U.S.:

Microsoft has put limits on the types of PCs that can be downgradedto Windows XP after June 30, Dell said yesterday, a restriction thatmeans it will offer home users the option only on machines designed forgamers.

Buyers of the three consumer models that can be downgraded to XPafter today must pay an additional $20 fee, Dell also said. The chargeis similar to the $20 to $50 added to the price of Dell’s entry-levelbusiness computers.

“Microsoft says what kinds of systems can be downgraded,” said Dellspokeswoman Anne Camden yesterday. “Those are enterprise, smallbusiness and gaming systems.”

While Microsoft has set June 30 as the general end of availabilityfor Windows XP, Dell will stop preinstalling most versions of theseven-year-old operating system today. It will still ship some PCs withWindows XP, however, by taking advantage of the downgrade rights builtinto Vista Business and Vista Ultimate. Downgrading lets Dell installWindows XP Professional in lieu of Vista, although the newer operatingsystem is still shipped with the machine so that buyers can, if or whenthey choose, move from XP to Vista.

“Small businesses are slow to transition to Vista,” said Camden, whonoted that business users often rely on applications that don’t run inthe newer OS. “Gamers are in [a] similar situation. They often havesignificant investments in special peripherals and special games thatwon’t work in Vista.”

After today, Dell will downgrade only three machines in itsupper-end XPS consumer line, Camden confirmed: the XPS 630 and XPS 720H2C desktops and the XPS M1730 notebook. Previously, Dell had said itwould not offer XP as an option after today on its mainstream Inspironlines of desktops and laptops.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft denied that the company is keeping anycustomers from downgrading. “No, Microsoft is not targeting anyspecific customers with downgrade rights,” she said in an e-mail.“Anyone who buys Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate iseligible for a downgrade.” Nor is Microsoft telling computermanufacturers which type of PCs they can downgrade to XP, she added.

In comparison to its limited number of consumer PCs that can bedowngraded from Vista to XP after today, Dell’s small businessselection includes all four lines: Vostro, Latitude, OptiPlex andPrecision.

Dell, which said yesterday that it would charge up to $50 tofactory-install an XP downgrade on its Vostro-branded desktops andnotebooks, added later in the day that it planned to waive those feesfor a limited time. “I can’t say much more than ‘limited time,’ Camdensaid Tuesday afternoon, “but I wouldn’t expect it to last more than acouple of weeks.”

Buyers of Dell’s Latitude laptops, OptiPlex desktops and Precisiondesktops and laptops don’t incur any additional fee for downgrading.

The downgrade charge waiver for Vostro customers begins tomorrow,said Camden, who added that there will not be a similar deal for buyersof the three XPS machines that include the downgrade option.

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