OEMs now have the option to provide XP downgrade to Vista Business, Vista Ultimate customers

Windows Vista is Microsoft's current flagship operating system for consumers. The operating system launched in late November for OEMs and was released to consumers on January 30.

Microsoft has long-touted the operating system as a revolutionary product for desktops and notebooks -- a product that would leave no consumers longing for the 5-year-old Windows XP operating system.

"Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 will transform the way people work and play," said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates on January 30. "Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 squarely address the needs and aspirations of people around the globe."

"The visual effects are spectacular; the navigation is streamlined and intuitive," added Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "They make it much easier to protect your PC, yourself and your children online. And they work together to help you accomplish more throughout the day."

In the months following the consumer launch of Windows Vista, Microsoft played the numbers game with sales figures. The company announced in late March that it sold 20 million licenses of Vista within two months compared to just 17 million for Windows XP. The number crept up to 40 million by mid-May and by late July; Microsoft reported that 60 million copies of Windows Vista had been shipped around the world.

Microsoft expects to have shipped one billion copies of Windows by the end of 2008.

Despite the many successes that Microsoft has touted with its operating system, some consumers just aren't impressed. Some have derided Windows Vista as being a bloat-fest with a prettier GUI and slower performance than its well-seasoned Windows XP predecessor -- ironically, both of those "flaws" were leveled against Windows XP in comparison to Windows 2000 after its launch in late 2001.

Other features that have irritated a number of consumers include the intrusive User Access Control (which can be turned off), application and driver incompatibilities, beefed up anti-piracy/activation scheme and Explorer's inability to remember View Settings among countless others -- feel free to add your own in the comments section.

The numerous issues many customers have with Windows Vista are compounded by the fact that many feel that Microsoft's pricing for the operating system doesn't quite mesh with the perceived value offered over Windows XP. Windows Vista is priced at $199/$99.95 for Vista Home Basic, $239/$159 for Vista Home Premium, $299/$199 for Vista Business and $399/$259 for Vista Ultimate (full/upgrade).

As a result of the complaints from customers and businesses regarding Vista, Microsoft recently began offering an "XP downgrade" option for OEMs. The decision to downgrade a Vista installation is fully supported by Microsoft, but it’s up to each individual OEM to provide the option to its customers. Unfortunately, the option only exists for Vista Business and Vista Ultimate installations – Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium users are out of luck.

Fujitsu, which took matters into its own hands by offering copies of Windows XP with its Vista notebooks and Tablet PCs, fully embraces Microsoft's decision.

"That's going to help out small- and medium-size businesses," said Fujitsu's Brandon Farris to CNET News.

Other PC retailers such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo also provide their customers with Windows XP if they so choose.

"For business desktops, workstations and select business notebooks and tablet PCs, customers can configure their systems to include the XP Pro restore disc for little or no charge," said HP spokeswoman Tiffany Smith.

"We've been offering it and we're still offering it," added Dell's Anne Camden.

While Vista Business and Vista Ultimate users have always had the right to downgrade to Windows XP per the licensing agreement, the actual implementation of the program has been lacking. The process by which to get XP media for new systems with Vista Business or Vista Ultimate pre-installed was often complicated and troublesome, but changes made over the past few months have made it considerably easier for customers.

Some companies, such as Dell, have even gone so far to allow consumers to purchase new PCs with Windows XP pre-installed; thus leaving Vista completely out of the equation.

With that said, the window of opportunity to acquire Windows XP is slowly closing. Direct OEM and retail license availability of Windows XP will cease on January 31, 2008.

"Folks that want porn can buy an Android phone." -- Steve Jobs

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