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A new survey suggests that Microsoft’s Windows 7 could enjoy the fastest enterprise adoption rate of any version of the software giant’s operating systems when it’s released this fall.

A poll conducted by ChangeWave and reported by ZDNet found that 44 percent of the 68 corporate users testing Windows 7 were “very satisfied” with the software. A similar poll taken by ChangeWave in February 2007, a few weeks after Microsoft launched Windows Vista, found just 10 percent expressing a similar sentiment.

While the survey only takes into account a small number of users, it does reflect broader opinions testers have expressed about Windows 7, which appears to avoid many of the security, compatibility and ease-of-use complaints that plagued Vista.

Many companies were slow to upgrade to XP after successfully deploying Windows 2000, and then skipped Vista entirely. This leaves a large legacy install base of a very old operating system that Microsoft is struggling to retire. In fact, mainstream support for XP ends next month, yet another factor that could set the stage for a wholehearted embrace of Windows 7.

As usual, OEMs will continue to offer downgrade rights for a limited time, which is not unusual in and of itself. What’s unusual in this case is the length of time Microsoft has offered downgrades from Vista; formerly such downgrades were available for limited periods, at least for customers buying the business-oriented versions. The lukewarm reception that Vista received among business users and the development of the netbook market led Microsoft to extend that "limited period" after Vista failed to take off.

This means that Windows 7’s downgrade rights may also be different, and will include the option for customers to downgrade to XP. Since Windows 7 is in many ways a relatively minor refresh to Windows Vista, this isn’t really surprising, and both operating systems are nearly identical when it comes to software and hardware compatibility. The ability to migrate from XP to Windows 7 is the scenario most likely to raise compatibility issues, forcing Microsoft to continue to make XP downgrades available.

Microsoft’s position is that extending XP to and beyond this point allows consumers the choice of whether to upgrade their systems to the “better” Vista or to stick with a tried-and-true OS.

"Based on feedback, Microsoft is further broadening the options provided to Direct OEMs to help customers facilitate end-user downgrade rights included in the product license terms of a new system with either Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate. These product versions are the only ones to include such end-user downgrade rights,” a Microsoft spokesperson tells Channel Insider.

“This option is designed to help Direct OEMs further support customers (primarily small business customers) looking for Windows XP Professional due to application compatibility concerns.  End-user downgrade rights are a right in the end user license for Windows Vista Business and Ultimate products, and therefore remain in effect for the life of the product, so this change does not represent an extension,” the spokesperson says. 

“This is not the first time that Microsoft has offered downgrade rights to a version other than its immediate predecessor.  In fact, our Software Assurance customers can always downgrade to any previous version of Windows," the spokesperson says.