Microsoft plans to end the sale of Windows XP on June 30, 2008.

Will devices like the Eee PC 900 have an XP option after June?  (Source: ASUS)

ECS G10IL  (Source: ECS)

Everex's CloudBook comes pre-installed with gOS V2, a variant of Linux.  (Source: Everex)
The looming June funeral for Windows XP could spell disaster for Microsoft in the low-end market

Windows XP has quite a few fans left despite the fact that the operating system was first launched in late 2001 and has since been replaced by the newer, more feature-packed Windows Vista operating system. Despite XP's age, many users stick to the operating system for its robustness, rock-solid driver support, and relatively bloat-free user interface (in comparison to Vista at least) which leads to better overall performance.

Microsoft, however, isn't exactly singing XP's praises anymore. While the Redmond-based company is putting the finishing touches on Service Pack 3 (SP3) for the nearly seven-year-old OS, the company announced last year that it would cease the sale of new XP licenses on June 30, 2008 -- this date itself was extended from January 31, 2008 due to incessant pressure from its customers.

Microsoft is now facing the grim possibility that it pre-planned funeral for Windows XP may leave it out of a lucrative, growing market for low-cost sub-notebooks. No one expected that the Xandros Linux-based ASUS Eee PC would be as popular as it became during late 2007; especially Microsoft.

With ASUS preparing its second generation Eee PC and a number of pretenders to the low-cost throne gearing up for production with Linux-based solutions, Microsoft needs an OS to complement these machines. The only feasible option right now is, of course, Windows XP.

Windows XP has a small enough footprint to install on machines with as little as 4GB of storage space. Granted, the default install of Windows XP Home on the newly-announced Eee PC 4G-X takes up 1.8GB of space, however, OEMs could pick and choose their installation options to duck under the 1GB barrier if they so choose. Software options like nLite already make this a possibility with end-users.

Windows Vista, on the other hand, simply isn't feasible due to its hardware requirements. Vista often struggles on even low-end Pentium Dual Core machines running with only 1GB of RAM. A Celeron-M based machine with 512MB of memory onboard wouldn't do much to provide a pleasant end-user experience in Vista.

"At the low end, Vista's hardware footprint is too large," said Intel vice president Tom Rampone to IDG News. "Even 512M bytes of RAM with [Vista] Home Basic, it's a slow machine -- underpowered and underperforming," added Everex marketing director Paul Kim.

The Windows XP problem leaves Microsoft in a sticky situation. Devices like ASUS' Eee PC 4G-X are safe until at least June 30 -- this gives it a rather short shelf life considering that it is launching on April 9.

The company can either decide to extend the sale of Windows XP to its volume customers -- yet again -- to make way for the growing crowd of sub-notebooks running on low-impact hardware like Intel's Atom processors or it can simply rollover and concede the market to the various flavors of Linux available today.

Microsoft isn't a company that will back down from a fight, hence the availability of Windows XP on the Eee PC. Hopefully for consumers, Microsoft will choose the former and extend the sale of Windows XP until it has a suitable next-gen OS to fill the gap.

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