Windows XP Downgrade Fees are Bullshit

I was buying some new computers for work recently and I actually almost laughed at the newest OEM bullshit that is being pulled by Microsoft. But let me back up a bit. My workplace is a windows shop. I’d say that 99% of our machines are running some sort of OS made by Microsoft. Most machines run windows XP and we are really not in a hurry to change that dynamic. Especially since every single employee who bought a new computer in the last year gave us a panicked call the next day asking whether or not we will be migrating to Vista any time soon, and then thanked us profusely when we said that it is not something we have even remotely considered at the moment.

To tell you the truth I have yet to meet a single person IRL who thinks upgrading to Vista was a good idea. Most people in fact ask me if it’s possible to downgrade back to XP. Funny thing is that most of the new Vista laptops ship with the funky SATA drives which are not detected by XP’s installation disk. So even if you have a non-OEM Genuine Windows XP™ license and installation disk downgrade requires some tinkering (ie. slip streaming SATA drivers) which is a pain in the ass – especially if you are a luser and you have no clue what the hell you are doing. I can’t help but wonder if the laptop vendors are contractually forced to do this. I wouldn’t be surprised.

But this is not the underhanded Microsoft tactic du jour that I wanted to talk about today. I wanted to talk about the downgrade fees. If you want to buy a computer with Windows XP these days you need to carefully select your vendor since not all of them are allowed to do this. It’s not that there is no demand for it – as far as I can tell the demand for Windows XP is huge. It’s just Microsoft only licenses XP to few select companies. So for example, if you want to buy your new machine from HP you will need to go with Vista. If you want XP you probably need to go with Dell. Unfortunately, recently Dell stopped selling machines with Windows XP. When you buy a new computer you have to buy a Vista license. There is just no way around it. But because of the huge demand for XP, Dell will “downgrade” the system for you for an additional fee of $99:


Some people say this is a bargain, while I say it is a ripoff. Yes, you theoretically do get a Vista license but it is an OEM bound to that machine. Most people who are still buying XP machines have no intention of upgrading to Vista any time soon. I’d say that 90% of the people who purchased the downgrade will never actually use the Vista license they got as part of this deal. If they wanted Vista, they would buy Vista right now, no?

If I remember correctly, when Dell was still selling XP they were pricing it approximately the same as Vista. This means that practically speaking buying the downgrade means you are paying the same as you would pay for a WinXP computer and a $99 Microsoft Tax.

It is a shady, underhanded tactic and I’m not sure who should I blame here. Is Dell skimming off the top here selling us bullshit downgrades? Is Micrisoft requiring them to do this in order to boost their Vista sales this quarter? Is it both?

All I know is that I don’t like this one bit.

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9 Responses to Windows XP Downgrade Fees are Bullshit

  1. Zack UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I can speak for Microsoft, but I think it’s Dell that’s doing this. I recently had a client purchase this “downgrade” before talking to me about it. And when I went to setup the computer, you could tell it was nothing special. But the amazing part was the fact that it SHIPPED with XP, but it had a VISTA COA on the back. It came with a Windows XP SP3 slip streamed CD as well as the Vista Business CD. To me, it totally felt like Dell was just doing it to get extra money. I heard also from a friend at MS, that Dell pays about $5-10 per license regardless of whether it’s home or prof. Anyway, it’s early and now I’m rambling and need to get to work.

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  2. ths UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I remember a recent press release by Micro$oft and they said that you *always* are entitled for a free downgrade, no matter which vendor you choose. This has ever been so since they released Windows. If you bought Windows XP you were entitled to run Windows 2000, and so on.

    I remember a customer more than 10 years ago who couldn’t run Windows/386 because of some mainboard issue, and Micro$oft happily replaced the disks with the Windows/286 version for free (in Germany).

    This “downgrade fee” is just a way to make more money.

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  3. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I had always thought MS gave the downgrade license for free, like a one-to-one exchange thing. But at $99, it smells of Dell taking advantage of the hordes of people for wanting to do so.

    All hail capitalism! Where there’s demand, there’s always assholes that will take advantage of it!

    On a side note, those SATA hdds that you were talking about requiring drivers is because in the BIOS, it is set to “ACHI” mode. Setting it back to “IDE” mode does not require any slipstreaming or quick-press-F6-before-we-lose-it-wheres-the-floppy-get-ready scenarios. My company also issues Dell machines and switching it back to IDE helps when reinstalling the OS to whatever we require them to.

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  4. ths UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Time to press F6 is quite long, and the floppy need not be ready. The load and install of the drivers actually takes place much later. Pressing F6 simply means that you need drivers.

    I have configured a boot CD with nLite some weeks ago, and it was quite easy to include the SATA drivers for a number of mainboards.

    And I wouldn’t recommend setting SATA to compatibility mode. The performance impact is measurable, and you give up some specific features SATA borrowed from SCSI, like NCQ.

    German c’t magazine described a way to switch from IDE to AHCI mode some weeks ago, it’s quite simple to do it later. You need the SATA driver twice, and you need to know how to tweak the registry so that it’s getting found during boot time.

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  5. Steve CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I never buy a PC from a vendor like Dell or HP…nothing “prepackaged”. I would rather build from scratch and install what I want (XP Pro, for now).

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  6. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    You’ve missed something here. The base price is for Vista Home. It costs $99 to upgrade to either XP or Vista Professional.

    The bulk of users who want XP in my experience is businesses, so I can understand Dell offering only one option to simplify – most home users seem to be attracted to ‘more eye-candy’ and ‘dx 10’ and ‘newest’… and don’t have procedures and preexisting training/software/whatever that need to be accounted for.

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  7. Steve CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @vacri: I disagree. Most home users want something familiar. If they have XP at work, they want it at home. I know many home users who got Vista and complained because they couldn’t find anything. And don’t get me started on that horrendous Ribbon bar shit in Office. I mean, they even made it difficult to Print without clicking everywhere. Very non-intuitive.

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @vacri: I agree with Steve on this. While users may say they want the “newest” OS (cause you know – newer == better) they don’t actually want to learn new things. The differences between XP and Vista UI are actually huge in certain places.

    For example, we had a document on our intranet titled “How to set up VPN”. It was written for Win 2000 back in the day, then slightly tweaked to also work on Win XP and 2003. Now it has two completely separate sections – one for 200x/XP and one for Vista.

    When you switch people to Vista it’s almost as switching them to Linux or Apple. Everything looks different and alien, they can’t find their files and new and scary warnings keep popping up all the time asking for permissions and etc.

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  9. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    There’s always going to be some pain switching OSs and people whining about not dealing with change. To some extent, that’s the bulk of the home users complaints. Businesses, on the other hand, often run software that can’t run on the new OS. Huge, behemoth software that has to be vetted to business levels, not consumer levels. When a business complains there’s a bit more weight behind it.

    Sure, technical home users that use windows want XP. But those same technical home users also want XP Pro. XP Home is crippled. I have a friend who sells whiteboxes as his side business – and all the whiteboxes going to non-technical users pretty much wanted vista. Yes, once they were received he did receive a fair few inquires as to whether they could be subsequently downgraded (this info from around the turn of the year, pre SP1 days), but most of his whiteboxes to non-technical people started out as Vista, despite him suggseting XP.

    I think you may be confusing you knowing what is best for a home user as compared to what the home user personally wants. We know a good system has a consistent GUI, is secure, blah blah. Non-techies just know the adverts.

    Nevertheless, this $99 charge is still the same cost as the Vista version – it’s not an extra cost.

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