Windows XP: the beginning of the end
From today. 30 June, Microsoft plans to stop supplying Windows XP – at least partially. As from tomorrow, big OEM manufacturers are to pre-install only Windows Vista on the PCs they sell. However, Windows XP won't completely disappear for some time yet.
Officially, Microsoft intends to keep on making XP Home Edition available for mini-notebooks or "Netbooks" as well as for low cost desktop PCs or "Nettops" until 30 June 2010, or a year after the availability of the next version of its operating system, whichever comes later. Since Windows 7, Vista's successor, isn't expected to appear until January 2010, XP is likely to remain in existence for netbooks and nettops until at least 2011. Why is Microsoft changing its original plan? Vista is simply too cumbersome for these small and minimal systems, so without the availability of Windows XP the makers of these devices would be shipping them only with Linux installed.
XP will hang on in other ways too, retailers, for example, can sell their existing stocks for an unlimited period. And even if XP can no longer be found in shops, it is still available, though subject to special conditions. The magic word here is "downgrade": which means that, though buying Vista, you can choose to install XP instead. The benefit for Microsoft is that, although the client keeps on using XP, the sale will be added to the total count for Vista licences sold.
Some PC makers want to exploit the downgrade option in order to keep on offering PCs with XP pre-installed. Hewlett Packard, for example, announced in April that it would in future carry out this downgrade in advance, if so ordered by a client, and would supply individually configured computers with XP images, although probably only to clients with volume licences. Dell too, has confirmed that it wants to continue supplying computers accompanied by an Vista licence but with XP pre-installed for quite some time. Lenovo is following a somewhat different route: according to its web site, it intends to make its pre-activated recovery CDs available to clients until January 2009. These enable a computer to be quickly switched over to XP.
Meanwhile, Microsoft never tires of praising the advantages of Windows Vista over XP. Some white papers have been published praising its usefulness in a company context and comparing its range of functions, though these have tended to contain only the familiar catch-phrases – "more secure!", "faster!", "more stable!", "more innovative!" – and probably don't get the desired response from every company: Intel and Daimler, for example, have already shown themselves uninterested.
Microsoft is not only trying to put pressure on business clients to make the changeover, it is also unwilling to tolerate the continued use of XP by private customers, and here Microsoft is making itself clearer. There is currently a document on Microsoft's site that states the reasons for the imminent cessation of the supply of Windows XP, saying bluntly that "We know you want XP, but we won't sell it to you."
What is doubtful, however, is whether this official cessation of supplies will have any effect: an online dealer, for example, told heise online that the sales figures of XP are now falling and, for that reason, no large stocks of it have been built up. Many interested parties have evidently arranged licence cover already. Even if Microsoft succeeds in stopping the sale of XP in the near future, many users will nevertheless continue to use XP – whether with licences they already hold, or using the downgrade option. And there is nothing to prevent them doing so, at least for the coming few years, since Microsoft is promising to provide updates to plug security-critical holes in Windows XP until 2014 at least – which, according to current planning, is bizarrely longer than for Windows Vista Ultimate.