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A third of new PCs being downgraded to XP, says metrics researcher

Vista may be what Microsoft sells, but XP remains popular

August 18, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Editor's note: The person quoted in this story as "Craig Barth" is actually Randall C. Kennedy, an InfoWorld contributor. Kennedy, who presented himself as the CTO of Devil Mountain Software, no longer works at InfoWorld. Given that he disguised his identity to Computerworld and a number of other publications, the credibility of Kennedy's statements is called into question. Rather than simply remove stories in which he is quoted, we have left them online so readers can weigh his data and conclusions for themselves.

More than one in every three new PCs is downgraded from Windows Vista to the older Windows XP, either at the factory or by the buyer, a performance and metrics researcher said today.

According to Devil Mountain Software Inc., which operates a community-based testing network, nearly 35% of the 3,000-plus PCs it examined had been downgraded from Vista to XP.

"Either these machines were downgraded by [sellers like] Dell or HP, or they were downgraded by the user after they got the machine," said Craig Barth, chief technology officer at Devil Mountain. "In any case, these machines are no longer running Vista."

Barth used data provided by users to Devil Mountain's Exo.performance.network — which it kicked off last year and has expanded by partnering with InfoWorld, a Computerworld sister publication — to come up with his numbers. Infoworld first reported the data earlier today. By collating such things as the vendor and system model number with manufacturers' catalogs, Barth was able to identify machines that were probably shipped within the past six months, a period when virtually every new PC was offered with Vista preinstalled.

"The 35% is only an estimate, but it shows a trend within our own user base," Barth said. "People are taking advantage of Vista's downgrade rights."

Under the terms of Microsoft's end-user licensing agreement, Vista Business and Vista Ultimate can be "downgraded" to XP Professional; businesses that purchase Vista Enterprise can also downgrade to XP.

Although Microsoft retired Windows XP from mainstream availability at the end of June — it stopped shipping the seven-year-old operating system to retail and large computer makers — some OEMs have continued to offer new PCs with XP preinstalled by doing the downgrade at the factory. Hewlett-Packard Co., for example, has promised that it will offer the downgrade option on its business-class desktops, notebooks and workstations through July 2009.

"Vista's installed base certainly doesn't equal the number of Vista licenses [that Microsoft has] sold," Barth said, citing the Exo.performance.network data as proof. "We're seeing this a lot in the financial sector."

Devil Mountain's primary product, the DMS Clarity Studio performance-analyzing software, is installed in large numbers at several major financial firms. "One client is not doing Vista at all, but they're refreshing their entire platform this year," Barth said. The company, a nationally known securities firm, is instead downgrading to the 64-bit version of Windows XP, he said.

Last year, Devil Mountain benchmarked Vista and XP performance using other performance-testing tools and concluded that XP was much faster. Barth said things haven't changed since then. "Everything I've seen clearly shows me that Vista is an OS that should never have left the barn," he noted.

Even when stripping Vista down to core components to make it as close in functionality to XP as possible, Vista was 40% slower, Barth claimed, citing recent tests Devil Mountain has performed. "Vista's performance had been an ongoing problem, and the only thing that's saving Microsoft's bacon is the faster processors and more RAM on today's PCs," he said. "Moore's Law is always on their side."

Read more about Operating Systems in Computerworld's Operating Systems Topic Center.



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