"Downgrades" have been a standard practice among PC manufacturers for some time, where customers can choose to get a prior operating system rather than the most current one on the market.
For example, Windows XP sales continued for years after it normally would have left the market due to the extreme dissatisfaction with its successor, Windows Vista. Even when the vastly improved Windows 7 shipped, many corporate buyers still downgraded their purchases to Windows XP but only for compatibility with older software and legacy hardware. For some businesses their internal applications and machinery aren't certified to run on Windows 7, forcing them to buy the older XP OS even if they didn't want it.
While Windows 8 doesn't suffer from the same problems as Windows Vista did, we're back in a Vista-like scenario. Windows 8 is receiving a lukewarm reception at retail and many larger businesses are still migrating to Windows 7. For those companies still struggling to migrate from XP to Windows 7, going from XP to Windows 8 is a bridge too difficult to cross. That's why some business customers ordering new computers are asking for a downgrade from Windows 8 to 7.
But if they buy a computer now, some major OEMs are not promising full Windows 7 support. It started with HP, when people noticed in its HP Windows 8 FAQ that Windows 7 users would not get OS support, just hardware support.
After an initial bad rush of reports, HP clarified the statement: "HP has not tested all Windows 8 platforms for Windows 7 and we may not have your particular drivers available. If you choose to install a different operating system (OS) and have a problem that requires HP support, you may need to restore the original OS to fully diagnose your problem." The "original OS" is Windows 8.
Dell says customers purchasing a Latitude, OptiPlex, Precision Workstation, Alienware gaming system, or an XPS product through business configuration services with Windows 7 will be fully supported per the terms and conditions in the customer's warranty or service agreement.
For customers purchasing the consumer-focused XPS or Inspiron systems, the products are only available with Windows 8. Should they chose to install Windows 7 and come across an issue requiring customer support, their system may need to be restored to factory settings, which is Windows 8.
Lenovo's Think-branded notebooks and desktops support customers downgrading from Windows 8 Pro to Windows 7 Pro on all but a few select new touch systems where the Windows 7 touch experience would not be as good, the company states.
For the supported systems, Lenovo provides Windows 7 drivers on the Lenovo support site for customer use. The company also offers a license for Windows 8 Pro if the buyer chooses to upgrade at a latter date, and there will be some Windows 7 Think models for sale as well.
Acer, which also sells Gateway branded PCs, says that if it offers Windows 7 as a downgrade option, then it will fully support the drivers and hardware. In other words, if Acer doesn't offer a Windows 7 downgrade option for your PC then they won't provide Windows 7 support.
It's unusual compared to past policies, but there's not much to be read into this, says Martin Reynolds, research vice president with Gartner. Business customers won't be denied support for their OS, he notes, it will only apply to the consumer markets.
"It doesn't feel like a big deal, to be honest. I think they are just covering themselves from having to spend days and days back testing all their drivers. To be honest, if it's Windows 7 driver on a Windows 8, it should work. They are just being cautious here," he said.
"I don't think it reflects any sideways attempt to force the world to Windows 8," he added.
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