RealTime IT News

Another Reprieve for Microsoft's XP 'Downgrades'

Microsoft Windows 7
Microsoft confirmed Monday that customers who buy new PCs after Windows 7 ships will still be able to downgrade those systems to Windows XP.

Confirmation came after AppleInsider reported over the weekend that HP (NYSE: HPQ) will continue selling XP Professional as a downgrade to Windows Vista, as well as to Windows 7, through April 30, 2010 -- more than a year from now.

"We can confirm that this is happening, but no dates have been announced for the end of Windows 7 downgrade right facilitation to Windows XP," a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.com in an e-mail.

In late December, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) extended availability of XP Pro for small companies building systems. Until then, system builders' access to XP was to have expired on Jan. 31. The extension now enables them to take delivery of new copies of XP until May 30, 2009 -- as long as they ordered them by the end of January 2009.

What about the major PC makers?

As much as Microsoft would like to kill off XP in favor of later, more lucrative offerings, it has had to extend availability of the downgrade option several times over the past two years since Vista shipped.

However, big PC manufacturers retained the right to sell buyers of PCs pre-loaded with Windows Vista Business and Ultimate downgrades to XP all along.

"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," the spokesperson said. Direct OEMs are PC makers that sell directly to public and corporate customers, like HP and Dell (NASDAQ: DELL).

That means that the downgrade option extends further than just one large OEM. "This is not limited to HP," the spokesperson added.

The juggling of XP's availability on new systems comes as the latest sign that demand for the aging operating system remains relatively robust.

Even though it's already nearly eight years old, XP is stable, well-understood, and well liked by users. In fact, it's been the most popular version of Windows to date.

Additionally, even though the downgrade option has been around for several years, the advent of Vista was the first time that large numbers of customers opted for it. Of course, given the relative unpopularity of Vista, that should come as no surprise.

Downgrading to XP has its shortcomings, though. For one, mainstream support for XP Professional expires next week on April 14. After that date, "extended support," which includes just free security patches and paid support, will run until August 8, 2014.

Windows 7 is officially not scheduled to arrive on store shelves until January 30, 2010. Still, most observers expect it to reach general availability in time for the 2009 holiday shopping season.

In summer, InternetNews.com reported that Microsoft was aiming for an early June "release to manufacturing" or RTM -- the last step before a product actually reaches market, for Windows 7.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced the beginning of the official beta test for Windows 7 in early January. At present, Microsoft is readying the final testing phase, known as a "release candidate" or RC. If no major bugs are found, the RC will become the version that hits store shelves.

InternetNews.com previously reported that the RC had been scheduled for mid-April. Perhaps because of the half-million bug reports and other feedback that the development team received during the beta, however, the RC now appears to have slipped to sometime in May.

While many users wait with baited breath for Windows 7's final release, though, many large customers are likely to follow established patterns for adopting new versions of Windows. That is, many IT shops are likely to begin deployments only after they receive the release's first Service Pack update, which usually arrives about a year after the original ship date.

That may drive customers to continue purchasing new PCs downgraded to XP for perhaps as long as another two years, until they are comfortable with a move to Windows 7. Alternately, it could leave the door open for competitors like Linux to make inroads.

Still, it remains to be seen whether customers go that route or follow more aggressive advice on moving to the next Windows installment.

Windows 7 has received many positive reviews that indicated the OS was already very stable when it went into beta. For that reason, Gartner two weeks ago urged customers not to wait for the first Service Pack to begin planning deployment, starting instead with Windows 7's release.