Microsoft gives Windows XP five-month reprieve

It will sell the old OS until June 2008, even with Vista selling 'pretty well'

Bowing to what it calls customer feedback, Microsoft Corp. yesterday said it would sell Windows XP to large computer makers and at retail through the end of June 2008, five months later than the deadline it set when Vista shipped to the public earlier this year.

The decision will keep Windows XP on new PCs and store shelves until June 30, 2008. The original stop-sale date to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and at retail was Jan. 31, 2008. Smaller computer sellers, dubbed "system builders," will still be able to preinstall Windows XP on machines until Jan. 31, 2009.

"There are some customers who need a little more time to make the switch to Windows Vista," said Mike Nash, the head of Windows product management, in an interview conducted by Microsoft's own public relations team and posted on the company's Web site. "So we're responding to feedback we have gotten from our OEM partners that some customers will benefit by extending availability of Windows XP."

Microsoft also pushed back the end-of-availability of Windows XP Starter Edition, the scaled-back version designed for countries where piracy rates are high and computers come with very low price tags, to June 30, 2010.

Nash said the move was prompted by customer demand -- both from OEMs and buyers -- but also acknowledged that Microsoft might have overreached in trying to shove XP out the door only a year after the general release of Windows Vista. "As a practical matter, most of our previous operating system releases were available for about two years after the new version shipped, so maybe we were a little ambitious to think that we would need to make Windows XP available for only a year," he said in the Q&A.

But he also said Microsoft thought it had been right to set the earlier date. "Our research with customers before and since [Vista's] launch has reaffirmed our belief that the previous plan to offer Windows XP through January 2008 would address the needs of most customers," he said. "[But] we did get clear feedback that there was a set of customers who needed a bit more time."

He also defended Windows Vista, which has come under fire from some system builders as hardware hungry, buggy and bereft of drivers. Saying that Vista is on track to be the fastest-selling operating system in the company's history, Nash repeated the claim that Microsoft chief operating officer, Kevin Turner, made two months ago, that the company has sold more than 60 million Vista licenses.

Wednesday, in a videotaped interview done by Channel 9, a Microsoft-run discussion forum, Nash said Vista is "doing pretty well" in the market, but pinned some of the blame for its lackluster buzz -- and the continued attraction of Windows XP -- on nostalgic users.

"Every time a new OS ships, people have nostalgia for the old one, nostalgia for the previous experience," he said Wednesday. "The same thing is happening with Windows Vista." During that interview, Nash gave no hint that Windows XP sales would be extended five months.

Microsoft itself has been caught off-guard by the continued popularity of Windows XP. In July, CFO Chris Liddell told financial analysts during a conference call that the company had tweaked its fiscal year 2008 forecasts to account for a larger slice of revenue coming from the 2001 operating system. Liddell said that Microsoft "fine-tuned" the Vista-XP sales mix, changing the split from an earlier 85/15 in favor of Vista to 78/22.

Before that, Dell Inc., the world's No. 2 computer seller, had bowed to pressure from customers and reinstated Windows XP as an option, first for small businesses, then for consumers.

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