Microsoft's Windows 7 Upgrade 'Deal' Is a Dud

On one hand, Microsoft may seem generous for allowing companies to upgrade 25 purchased machines to Windows 7 for free between now and the Oct. 22 planned ship date for the new OS. After all, that's five times the amount of free licenses that it offered companies for Vista upgrades three years ago.

But that was a different time, a better economy. These days, the 25 PCs gesture is not enough.

It's not enough, because Vista was a debacle for early adopters. Vista didn't deliver on its promises and caused businesses stress and anxiety, forcing many to make do with the more solid, albeit aging, Windows XP.

Although I think there's too many rants out there on the Web now about how all the long-suffering Vista users should get Windows 7 for free forever, heck, with a new car thrown in, I do think businesses are owed better and cheaper access to Windows 7 because of Vista's failure in the enterprise.

I also think the 25-PC limit should not be tolerated because of our crippling economic downturn and because it's a sneaky tactic by Microsoft to get companies to pay up for a Software Assurance agreement, which costs $100 - $150 per machine for unlimited upgrades at no additional cost for three years.

Microsoft kept the 25-PC limit in very fine print when it announced its free Windows 7 Upgrade Option plan last week.

Only the smallest of companies will not be affected by the PC limit; companies that need to buy, say 100 PCs right now, will have to pay for Windows twice (Vista initially and then the license for Windows 7 when it releases) for 75 of them. As PCWorld's David Coursey asks: Why pay now and pay later?

What are companies' other options? You can wait until Oct. 22 to buy new machines with Windows 7 pre-loaded, though being forced to wait to make needed purchase in a recession is lame. Companies could spend extra money on a Software Assurance agreement and then buy however many machines they want and get free upgrades (that's what Microsoft wants).

Or, companies could fight the system, using PC makers as allies (what Microsoft most definitely does not want).

In a report titled "Enterprises Should Demand Windows Upgrade Option", Gartner research director Michael Silver slams Microsoft's 25-PC Windows 7 upgrade limit, emphasizing that businesses still have the right to bypass Microsoft and negotiate with PC makers that have leverage in this area.

Silver writes: "Press your OEM to give you free Windows 7 upgrades for all the PCs you buy until Windows 7 ships on new PCs. Larger OEMs administer their own programs, have latitude to do this and have made exceptions for organizations in the past."

If your OEM can't save the day, then Silver suggests buying 25 PCs now and then buying the rest with Windows 7 preloaded after Oct. 22. It's not ideal, but you won't be duped into paying twice.

But businesses should first try nagging the heck out of OEMs for more PCs with free Windows 7 upgrades. If OEMs have the right to push their own programs, you might as well push your own interests.

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