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HP tweaks Windows 8 downgrade policy

Now says 'we may not' have Windows 7 drivers for consumers' new PCs that come with Windows 8 pre-installed

Hewlett-Packard has twice revised its message to customers about downgrading new PCs equipped with Windows 8 to the older Windows 7 in an attempt to clarify its position.

In the revisions, HP left open whether it would provide drivers to consumer customers who want to downgrade. Previously, the company categorically said it would not offer any Windows 7 drivers to those customers.

Computerworld first reported on HP's downgrade stance Nov. 8.

In a now-deleted message on its support website, HP had made plain its policy.

"Windows 7 will not be supported on these new [Windows 8] platforms, and no drivers, apps, or Windows 7 content will be available through HP," the company said. "If users choose to downgrade their HP consumer desktop or notebook system, HP will continue to support the hardware but if there is an issue where HP diagnostics are required or it is determined that the loaded software or upgrade operating system is causing the issue, HP may suggest returning the system to the original Windows 8 OS."

Some Computerworld readers were furious at HP's position, going as far in comments appended to the Nov. 8 story as to swear that they would never again purchase a PC from the company.

Downgrade rights -- which let customers replace a newer version of Windows with an older edition without paying for two copies -- are designed to allow companies to keep new machines on their preferred OS.

Only Windows 8 Pro comes with downgrade rights; the consumer-standard Windows 8 does not. Windows 8 Pro users can downgrade to Windows 7 Professional or Vista Business, but must provide their own installation media for one of those versions.

In the two revised support FAQs, the first posted on Friday, the second published Monday, HP backed away from the earlier refusal to provide Windows 7 drivers -- a critical component for a successful downgrade -- and instead said, "HP has not tested all Windows 8 platforms for Windows 7 and we may not have your particular drivers available." [Emphasis added]

HP did not go so far as to promise drivers for all its PCs -- or some, or even any -- nor did it spell out which systems would have a full complement, leaving the revised policy open to broad interpretation: The optimistic may read in it an implied promise, while the pessimistic may see nothing definitive, and focus on the "we may not" qualifier.

The company retained its warning that if customers downgraded to Windows 7 and reached out to HP for support, they may have to restore the original Windows 8 OS to get help from the company.

Both revised statements made a point to say, "Yes, customers can downgrade to Windows 7."

That was never in dispute: Users always could downgrade, assuming they had the appropriate license -- Windows 8 Pro -- and media for Windows 7 Professional or Vista Business. The question was whether their machines would work after a downgrade. That remained unanswered.

HP also explicitly told customers that downgrading did not void their new machine's warranty, something it had not noted before. "Customers who are able to and choose to downgrade their HP Windows-8 compatible products to Windows 7 will remain protected by HP product warranties," the newest of the two revisions said.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Read more about windows in Computerworld's Windows Topic Center.

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