Microsoft License Downgrade Rights – Know Them!

By Dan Brewster

Director of Client Services – Microsoft, NPI

March 30, 2018

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Did you know that Microsoft only sells current versions of its products? What happens if you purchase a current version of Office Professional, yet your firm has not yet deployed that version throughout the organization? What are your Microsoft license downgrade rights?

Well, like a lot of things licensing-related, it depends.  If you purchased the software license through Microsoft’s commercial licensing programs (Open, Select, Microsoft Product & Services Agreement, Enterprise Agreement), you’ve done well as downgrades are permitted for all products purchased under these programs.  As an aside, if you’re not purchasing under a commercial licensing program, you should probably ask yourself why not, as these are the most efficient ways to purchase from Microsoft.

If you’ve purchased OEM licenses, the application products (Office, Project, Visio, etc.) do not include downgrade rights.  The server products after 2003 typically do include downgrade rights, and the Windows Operating Systems from Windows Vista through Windows 10 Professional do include downgrade rights.  It is important, though, to read through the EULA or OEM License Terms document that ships with the product to understand the specific downgrade rights offered with the product, edition, and version you have purchased.

Full Packaged Products do not include downgrade rights.  As the name implies, these are those products that include the retail packaging (but not just sold in retail establishments – you could purchase FPP from Large Account Resellers). We most often see purchases of FPP when clients need to purchase older versions of a product for one reason or another – perhaps they’ve found “a deal” on the internet. But we strongly urge companies to think twice. The potential for counterfeit software when purchasing outside of typical reseller channels looms large.

Don’t Assume Microsoft License Downgrade Rights Apply Universally

Once you’ve determined that your purchase vehicle supports a downgrade, you need to ensure that you downgrade from “like” editions.  Downgrading from Windows 10 Professional to Windows 8 Enterprise is not an authorized downgrade – you must downgrade to Windows 8 Professional.  Similarly, a downgrade from Visio Professional to Visio Standard is not permitted.  A downgrade to Office Professional 2003, 2007, 2013 would be a permitted downgrade from Office Professional 2016 – but be careful. Downgrading to an earlier version of Office Standard won’t be allowed.

Confused yet? This is just one of many reasons why it’s important to consult Microsoft licensing expertise before making any material changes of this nature to your Microsoft estate.

Interestingly enough, Microsoft does not sell “Step Downs,” but they do sell “Step Ups.”  If you’ve purchased a license with software assurance and you want to “step up” from, say, Visio Standard to Visio Professional, Microsoft actually sells SKUs to facilitate the upgrade.  You’ll find these step-up licenses for most higher-edition products.

Microsoft recently upgraded their Downgrade Commercial Licensing Brief (you can access the PDF under “Downgrade Rights” on this page). It’s well worth a quick review. Just make sure you’re clear on the interpretation! If you’re not, contact NPI to learn more about your Microsoft license downgrade rights.