FAQ: XP deathwatch, T minus zero

As today's deadline arrives, it's goodbye XP, hello ... what?

Today's the day. That's it for Windows XP.

Monday marks the beginning of the end of the seven-year-old operating system, as Microsoft Corp. stops offering licenses to most big-name computer makers and halts shipments of boxed copies to retailers. But even as Microsoft pushes XP toward retirement, the venerable operating system will remain on the radar. That, in turn, means questions continue even as our series comes to a close.

Any sign that Microsoft will commute XP's death sentence? Absolutely not. In fact, the only word out of Redmond last week about Windows XP was the open letter to customers from Bill Veghte, the senior vice president who heads the Windows business marketing group, which nailed shut XP's coffin. In that letter, Veghte reiterated earlier promises by Microsoft that it would retire XP on June 30.

Rather than granting a reprieve, Veghte trumpeted "downgrades" as a way to get XP on a new PC after today. Several of the biggest computer manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and Lenovo Group Ltd., will continue to offer the older operating system as a downgrade option from Windows Vista. "This is a great value, because it lets you use Windows XP on new PCs today if you need it and then make the move to ... Windows Vista when you are ready, without having to pay for an upgrade," Veghte said in the letter.

Can I still get an XP PC from one of the name-brand makers? Only if you go the downgrade route. Dell extended sales of a few XP models in its Inspiron consumer line through last Thursday morning but pulled the deal on schedule. HP, Lenovo, Acer and others also have stopped selling XP-powered machines, except for those downgraded to XP Professional from Windows Vista Business or Vista Ultimate.

A quick check Sunday of the Best Buy, Circuit City and Wal-Mart sites turned up only Vista machines.

No exceptions? There are always exceptions.

Back in April, Microsoft said makers of mini subnotebooks could install the older OS for another two years, through the end of June 2010. Early this month, it added another hardware category, low-end, low-priced desktops dubbed "net-tops" by some, to that list.

Best Buy's online store, for example, showed limited availability of Asus Computer Inc.'s Eee PC bundled with XP Home.

So I have to go the low-end route to stick with XP? No. System builders, the small companies — often mom-and-pop shops — that assemble to-order PCs for local customers can preinstall Windows XP Home, Media Center and Professional through the end of January 2009.

While that deadline isn't new, Microsoft's Veghte repeated it in his letter last week. "System Builders (sometimes referred to as 'local OEMs'), may continue to purchase Windows XP through Authorized Distributors through January 31, 2009," said Veghte.

Can I still buy Windows XP Home? Yes. All three of the major online technology outlets — Amazon.com, Buy.com and Newegg.com — that we started tracking five weeks ago still showed XP Home in stock and available on Monday, June 30.

Has there been any change in XP's retail price in the last week? Only the slightest. The three-day average of the lowest "Buy It Now" price, shipping included, for a legitimate copy of Windows XP Home OEM on eBay fell 1.4% compared to a week ago, but prices at the other online sellers didn't budge.

The honors for the lowest price for a copy of XP Home OEM remain with Newegg.com, which sells the operating system, shipping included, for $84.99.

What happened to the "Save Windows XP" petition people were signing? It's on its way to Redmond, Wash., addressed to CEO Steve Ballmer.

As part of a campaign launched back in January, InfoWorld.com, a Computerworld.com sister site, posted an online petition that was eventually "signed" by more than 210,000 people to show their support for the aged operating system.

Today, InfoWorld's editor-in-chief, Eric Knorr, said he'd sent an electronic copy of the petition to Ballmer last Friday via overnight delivery. Knorr also published the contents of a letter he had attached to the petition.

"The typical interval from the introduction of a new version of Windows to the end-of-sale date for the previous version is two years," said Knorr. "Given the disruptive nature of many Vista upgrades, we feel that Microsoft should continue to make Windows XP available for at least that long, rather than ending the sale of Windows XP after 18 months."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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