Downgrade Rights Explained

By: Lacey Hartje

Summary: What can I do when I am not ready to move to the latest product or I have a legacy application and need to run a prior version of Microsoft Software? I see only the latest products for sale.

Let me explain your Downgrade Rights!  

Determining which version of Microsoft software you have a right to run, known as your downgrade rights, depends on the channel through which the software was purchased; Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), Retail (FPP), or Volume Licensing (VL) and also when it was purchased.


One of the most common questions our Licensing Team answers involves how to determine downgrade rights. 

Downgrade rights are a benefit of purchasing in the Volume Licensing channel and are also granted to some products sold via the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), and to a lesser degree the Retail (FPP) channels.  For OEM and FPP software, if available, downgrade rights will be specifically detailed in the License Terms (formerly called the End User License Agreement EULA) that accompany the software.

NOTE: Downgrade rights are not a Software Assurance (SA) Benefit.  There seems to be some confusion on this subject.  Software enrolled in SA has downgrade rights, but not because downgrade rights are a SA benefit.  Rather, it is because enrolling OEM and FPP (Full Package Product, retail) software in SA converts the licenses to Volume Licensing licenses.

Downgrade Rights generally apply to the version (here, version refers to year) of the software, but occasionally also involve editions (here, editions refer to named version like – Enterprise, Standard, Professional, and Datacenter) of the software.  In these cases to differentiate them, Microsoft refers to them as Down-Edition rights. 

Let’s use Windows Server as our example.  Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard edition and Windows Server 2012 Standard edition are two different versions of the same product; 2008 R2 versus 2012.  When Windows Server 2012 Standard edition is purchased via the Volume Licensing channel the customer has downgrade rights to any prior Version of the Standard edition of Windows Server.  Windows Server 2012 Standard downgrades to Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard.

Because of changes made to the licensing of Windows Server with the release of the 2012 version and because of the elimination of the Windows Server Enterprise edition, Windows Server 2012 Standard edition also has Down-Edition rights in addition to Downgrade Rights.  When purchased through a volume license agreement these rights are listed in the Product Use Rights (PUR).  The PUR applies to software sold via the Volume Licensing channel and is the equivalent of the License Terms that accompany OEM and FPP software.  The Down-Edition rights for Windows Server 2012 Standard edition allow running an instance of Windows Server Essentials or Enterprise (of the same or any earlier version) in place of the Standard edition in any of the licensed OSEs.

If you own OEM or FPP Windows Server 2012 Standard edition the downgrade rights will be listed in the License Terms in a section generally titled “Downgrade”.  For OEM & FPP software you may use an earlier version of the following editions of Windows Server; Standard, Enterprise, Web Server, and HPC Server.  It’s important to know which channel the software was purchased through (Volume Licensing, OEM, FPP, etc.) and when it was purchased in order to determine what downgrade rights and down-edition rights (if any) you have.  The PUR is published quarterly and is downloadable on the Microsoft Volume Licensing website here.  The PUR that is in effect when you purchase your license governs your use of the software (See another one of our Blog Posts “Knowing Which PUR Applies” for more details on this).

It is also important to understand that although Microsoft grants downgrade rights we do not necessarily provide the means (media and product keys) to downgrade.  So what does this mean?  In order to downgrade software you will need the bits of the earlier version or edition and a product key.  Microsoft only supplies bits and product keys to Volume License customers and only for certain versions and editions of the software.  Volume Licensing customers have access to the Volume Licensing Service Center (VLSC) where they will have access to the current version and the prior version of the software they have licensed.  We refer to the current version of software as version “n” and the prior version of the software as n-1.  There are also certain core Microsoft products that we provide n-2 and occasionally n-3 versions of the software via the VLSC.  Software titles where n-2 and n-3 versions are available can be viewed here.  If you have legally obtained physical media for earlier Microsoft products that your organization is currently licensed to use through downgrade rights, you may use that media for downgrades.

There is also a very comprehensive Licensing Brief on Downgrade Rights available on the Microsoft Volume Licensing website that may be viewed here.

Determining downgrade rights can be complicated and requires a thorough reading of all applicable licensing documents pertaining to the specific product and channel.  Occasionally, there will be restrictions and caveats pertaining to the exact nature of the downgrade rights.

This is one scenario and licensing situation. Each customer scenario can vary by deployment, usage, product version, and product use rights. Always check your contract, and the current Products Use Rights document to confirm how your environment should be fully licensed. The blogging team does not warrant that this scenario will be the right licensing solution for other similar cases.