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(Pocket-lint) - Microsoft has announced that it is extending the period that Windows 7 Pro and Ultimate users have the right to a free downgrade to Windows XP, for the entire life-cycle of their Windows 7 OS.

Previously, the Microsoft's guidelines stated that:

"Windows 7 end user downgrade rights will be available for approximately 18 months after the general availability of Windows 7 (April, 2011) or the release of a Windows 7 Service Pack, whichever is earlier".

The beta release of Windows 7 SP1 was announced on 12 July and, although the release isn't official and doesn't feature new user features and installation is not supported by Microsoft, many analysts thought it meant a stable release would be coming soon, thus making Windows 7 downgrades unavailable.

But Microsoft has decided that, because of the amount of businesses that still rely on Windows XP (a company executive at the Microsoft WPC stated that as many as 74 per cent of business computers run XP), it would extend the deadline.

"Our business customers have told us that removing end-user downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional could be confusing, given the rights change would be made for new PCs pre-installed with Windows 7, and managing a hybrid environment with PCs that have different end-user rights based on date of purchase would be challenging to track", said Brandon Leblanc, Windows communications manager at Microsoft.

"To support our customers' 'unprecedented move' to migrate their PC environment to Windows 7, we have decided to extend downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional beyond the previously planned end date at Windows 7 SP1".

"This will help maintain consistency for downgrade rights throughout the Windows 7 life cycle".

Does your workplace use Windows XP? Do you think the downgrade extension will be welcomed, or is it time that businesses got with the now - after all XP came out in 2001? Let us know...

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Writing by Paul Lamkin.