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Its hard to keep a good old OS down

Last week, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer addressed the media and delivered controversial comments that customers simply did not want XP, so that Microsoft would likely discontinue its sales in June 30 as planned.  From the feedback on DailyTech alone, it was obvious that some users did want XP, particularly in IT scenarios, while others couldn't care less about its death.

In the end, the fate of XP really rests in the hands of retailers which will be most affected by its discontinuation.  These retailers are not sitting idly by and consenting to XP's death though.  In fact, they are looking for sneaky ways to prolong its life, apparently choosing by their actions to dissentingly opine against Ballmer's valuation of consumer interest in XP.

Leading computer manufacturers Dell and Hewlett-Packard, both announced plans to use a loophole to allow computers to continue to be sold with Windows XP.  The key is a part of the Windows Vista license agreement, which grants "downgrade rights".  Essentially the company will be buying Vista and then "downgrading" the computers.  Thus the customer will essentially receive a PC with Windows XP that can be upgraded to Vista if they should so choose.

HP says that in the business sector it will continue to sell desktops, notebooks, and workstations "pre-downgraded" to XP, until July 30, 2009, over a year after Microsoft's planned discontinuation.  Dell will stop taking orders for XP machines as part of a default package on June 18, but will thereafter offer the same "pre-downgraded" option on its website.

Other major computer manufacturers have expressed interest in exploiting this loophole to satisfy those wanting XP.  However, they have not yet committed to plans and are still "exploring their options".

One unfortunate (in some people's mind) limitation of the downgrade loophole is that it only applies to Ultimate and Business versions of Vista.  Thus standard consumer machines will not be able to be downgraded to XP under the current rules. 

Also, the really challenging logistics crop up at retail stores.  Stores like Best Buy and Circuit City have already virtually done away with XP, but often get customers who want the option to pick XP instead.  However, in order to be within the law in terms of Microsoft's licenses, these retailers would somehow have to get the customer to specifically "ask" for a XP downgrade before offering it.  Thus floor models would be a virtual impossibility, limiting sales potential.

With the large public and business outcry over the discontinuation of XP, one would think Microsoft might consider changing its mind, especially giving Ballmer's comments, which indicated that the company would take customer feedback into consideration.  However, Microsoft seems content on casting a blind ear on dissenters' comments. 

Kevin Kutz, a director in Microsoft's Windows unit, blows off the possibility of an extension, and says that the downgrade option should satisfy customers.  Said Kutz, "While (computer makers) continue to see large numbers of customers making the transition to Windows Vista, there are some pockets--like small business--that need a little more time, and from what we've heard from our partners, the downgrade rights option fulfills that need."

The amount of demand for XP over Vista has surprised many manufacturers.  These manufacturers have struggled to try to find ways to satisfy it.  Manufacturer Lenovo, offers XP recovery disks as a downgrade option on some Vista models, and plans on continuing to do so through January 2009.

In the end for the consumer seeking XP, these developments mean there are still options, but they are becoming increasingly more difficult and hassle-prone. 

For Microsoft, the new manufacturer tactics are a mixed bag.  While they may be driving overall Microsoft OS sales, they undercut its Vista efforts.  Worse yet, they mean that the company may need to devote extra resources to XP-related  customer support, at a time when it is likely trying to pull resources off the XP side of things, to work on their new OS, Windows 7, likely due in 2010.





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