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Charity: Ta for the free Win 8.1, Microsoft – we'll use it to install Win 7

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Exclusive In November, Microsoft started offering free copies of Windows 8.1 to non-profits and charities.

Redmond called it a "donation"; the more cynical saw it as a handy way to boost deployments of the new OS and migrate desktops away from dead-end Windows XP.

Today The Register can reveal Microsoft has struck a deal with members of Nethope – an umbrella organisation representing some of the world's largest international charities – to supply them with free Win 8.1 licenses.

Nethope is made up of 41 heavyweights – from Christian Aid and Oxfam to the WWF – which use thousands of PCs. The agreement was brokered in March, we understand.

But it comes too late for at least one member: children's development charity Plan. The outfit is on the verge of completing a two-year project to migrate about 14,000 PCs and laptops from Windows XP to version 7. Plan has 1,700 PCs left to move, though.

The charity's global chief information officer Mark Banbury told The Reg his org will accept the Windows 8.1 freebie – and exploit a clause in the licence to downgrade (or upgrade depending on your point of view) to Windows 7 rather than settle with version 8.1.

But, we're told, there will be a mix of Windows 7 and Windows 8 machines within Plan.

“Mostly we are going to Windows 7,” Banbury told us. “We will have Windows 7 and 8. It shouldn’t be too bad, because most of our stuff is accessed over the web – as long as we standardize on the browser, it shouldn't be be too hard.”

Banbury reckoned Windows 8's touchscreen-friendly Metro interface is the hardest thing for users to overcome when using the new OS.

“Anybody we hand it to with the new interface, it takes a few weeks of training to get back up to speed,” he said.

A Nethope spokesperson, meanwhile, told The Reg its members' Windows XP PCs will be replaced with Windows 8 running on “various devices”. Microsoft has supported the umbrella org with donated software, services and cash, technical expertise and volunteers, since 2004. Microsoft’s donation will save Plan $117,000 on Windows licenses this time around, we're told.

The Redmond software giant has been offering free copies of Windows 8 to chosen charities and US non-profits under its software donations program since October 2012. Special Open Licenses are also available for non-profits based on how many licenses they initially purchase.

Microsoft told us it had donated $795m in cash, software and services to 70,286 non-profits in more than 115 countries during its most recent fiscal year. ®

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