(Source: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Rather than retiring Windows XP, Microsoft is going to offer the OS as a downgrade option for Windows 7, allowing users to relive their happiest memories from the start of the new millenium.  (Source: Microsoft)
Party like it's 2001, as Microsoft just won't let Windows XP die!

Windows XP, first released in October 2001, has been a sales hit for years, strengthening Microsoft's ownership of the OS market.  When Windows Vista came along, it faced a tough task building upon Windows XP's success.  Based on critical review and public reception, it fell short of matching this success.

Microsoft had planned to retire Windows XP in June 2008, after having already extended its lifespan longer than intended due to customers picking XP over Vista.  However, June came and went and only saw a partial retirement of XP.  Microsoft still had loopholes retaining support and sales for small systems like netbooks.  It also continued to support an option that allowed customers to purchase Windows Vista and downgrade to Windows XP.

Now Microsoft has revealed another surprise -- rather than offering Windows Vista as the sole downgrade option for its new OS, Windows 7, customers instead will be able to continue to party like its 2001, downgrading straight to Windows XP according to Apple Insider.  The news was first leaked by an HP internal memo:

Microsoft will allow PC OEMs to structure similar downgrade OS SKUs for Win 7 Professional once available. No formal announcement has been made on the General Availability date for Win 7. However, you can anticipate that business desktops, notebooks and workstations will take advantage of this with the release of Win 7 in the October timeframe to allow our customers maximum headroom as they transition away from XP Pro OS. The Win 7 Professional to XP Pro downgrade OS will also discontinue on April 30th 2010.

A Microsoft spokesperson reportedly confirmed this information to Betanews, adding, "This is not the first time that Microsoft has offered downgrade rights to a version other than its immediate predecessor and our Software Assurance customers can always downgrade to any previous version of Windows."

The plan, according to the spokesperson, is still to terminate all sales of Windows XP by June 2010 at the earliest.  Microsoft announced this plan about a year ago.  The spokesperson also declined to comment on, or reject the possibility that XP netbook customers would be given incentives to upgrade to Windows 7.

Currently many PC makers are currently still shipping PCs with Windows XP, via online downgrade options.  The rights to make such pre-downgraded boxes will expire July 31.  HP has already brokered a deal with Microsoft, though, to extend the offer.

The good news for Microsoft is that its new flagship product, Windows 7 should be able to run on most netbooks due to its leaner build.  CEO Steve Ballmer explains, "Windows 7 is Windows Vista with cleanup in user interface [and] improvements in performance."

The bad news, though, is that Windows Vista still remains unviable for netbooks.  And since Microsoft has always offered a downgrade option, that means that Microsoft will continue to offer the venerable Windows XP, a once industry-leading sales star, which many expected to be sent to the OS retirement home long ago.

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan

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