Microsoft moving XP into reduced-support phase

But free security patches will continue until April 2014

As planned, Microsoft Corp. will drop Windows XP out of what it calls "mainstream support" tomorrow, the company confirmed.

"On April 14, Windows XP will transition from the mainstream support phase to the extended support phase, as planned and previously announced," a company spokeswoman said today in an e-mail.

Microsoft's mainstream support, which is usually offered for only five years, actually ran seven and a half years because of the long lag between XP and its successor, Vista. Two years ago, Microsoft also extended mainstream support for XP Home and XP Media Center until 2009, and pushed back the deadline for the follow-up phase, dubbed "extended support," until 2014, to match the dates that had been set earlier for the business-grade XP Professional.

According to Microsoft, the transition from mainstream to extended support for Windows XP means that it will only provide paid support -- on a per-incident basis, or through its various prepaid support programs -- and will only offer nonsecurity hot fixes for a fee, and then only to customers who have purchased the Extended Hotfix Support plan.

Microsoft will continue to generate free security updates for Windows XP and release them via Windows Update until April 8, 2014.

Windows XP's shift into the first phase of support retirement comes at a time when the operating system remains extraordinarily popular, especially among business users. According to a recent survey by Dimensional Research Inc., 97% of the more than 1,100 IT professionals surveyed said that their companies and organizations are still running XP.

The move out of mainstream and into extended support also comes just days after a leaked Microsoft memorandum spelled out a relaxation of the rules for computer makers that want to continue selling new PCs with the aging operating system.

OEMs will be allowed to advertise new systems as XP PCs, something that hasn't been allowed since June 2008, and can "downgrade" a license for Windows 7 -- the operating system that hasn't yet been released -- to XP for at least six months after Windows 7's launch.

In her e-mail today, the Microsoft spokeswoman noted that support for XP on a new machine is provided by the computer maker, not Microsoft. "Customers who purchased Windows XP preinstalled on their machines will receive support from their Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) per the OEM support policy at time of purchase," she said.

Office 2003 also leaves mainstream support tomorrow.

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