FAQ: XP deathwatch, T minus 2 weeks

Dell spells out 'downgrade' systems, XP Home's retail prices continue to fall

Windows XP is beginning that last long walk toward retirement on June 30, with its end-of-life due date staring it — and you — in the face.

June 30 is Microsoft Corp.'s deadline for mainstream computer makers to stop selling new PCs with the old operating system, and the date that it will stop shipping boxed copies to retailers. That's just two weeks away.

We skipped a FAQ in our ongoing series, but today we pick up where we left off to answer questions about Microsoft's most recent relaxation of the retirement rules and some details about which machines big-brand computer makers will be selling with XP after June 30.

Any sign that Microsoft will reprieve Windows XP's retirement? Sort of.

Two weeks ago, Microsoft extended its exceptions to the aged operating system's end of availability by announcing that it would let makers of another class of computers — low-cost desktop PCs — preinstall XP Home through the end of June 2010.

It was the second time in two months that the company relaxed the decision that it would stop providing OEMs with XP licenses after June 30. In early April, it said it would let makers of small, lightweight, cheap notebooks use Windows XP for two more years.

Microsoft claimed that the turnabout originated with requests from customers, including OEM partners, but said nothing about drubbing rival operating systems — particularly Linux — that had been trying to gain a foothold in the small-and-cheap market. "One thing Microsoft has heard loud and clear, from both customers and partners, is the desire for Windows on this new class of devices," said a company spokeswoman in an e-mail on June 3.

So, no change on Microsoft's official XP's retail and OEM retirement date of June 30? No. But we're hoping the governor calls just before someone throws the switch.

When will big-name computer makers stop selling XP-powered PCs? Not until they have to.

Three of the world's top four OEMs — Hewlett-Packard Co., Acer Inc. and Lenovo Group Ltd. — confirmed last week that they will sell XP-equipped machines up to and including June 30.

Only Dell Inc., ranked second in sales last quarter by Gartner Inc. and IDC, plans to put an end to XP PC sales earlier than that; Dell's deadline is June 18, this Wednesday.

Don't forget, though, that Microsoft's letting retailers and OEMs sell out their existing inventory of boxed copies or Windows XP computers after June 30, rather than making them yank the software or systems off shelves.

What Windows XP PCs will be available after June 30 through the "downgrade" clause? That depends on the OEM.

Some computer makers will use the downgrade rights built into Windows Vista Business and Vista Ultimate to factory-install Windows XP Professional after June 30 (but not XP Home, the cheaper OS, since Microsoft forbids that). Lenovo and HP, for example, will continue to offer their downgrade options until the end of January and July 2009, respectively.

Dell, which was the first of the top OEMs to announce that it would rely on downgrade rights to continue selling XP-equipped PCs, has gotten very specific about which desktop and laptop models it will sell post-June 30.

On a new page in its Home & Home Office sales site, Dell said it would offer XP Pro as a downgrade on XPS 630, 720 H2C and M1730 systems. That's it. "After June 18, Windows XP will no longer be offered on currently available Inspiron laptops and desktops," Dell said on its site.

Dell's business PC lineup after June 30 isn't as clear, but from the company's Web site, it appears that it will offer downgrades to XP Professional for models in the Vostro and Latitude notebook lines and the Vostro and OptiPlex desktop families.

Has there been any change in XP's retail price in the past two weeks? Yes. Of the three major online technology outlets — Amazon.com, Buy.com and Newegg.com — we started tracking several weeks ago, two dropped their prices while the third boosted its price. EBay's average price also fell slightly.

Two weeks ago, Buy.com priced Windows XP Home OEM — the least expensive version of the operating system, but also the one that comes with the most restrictions — at $100.24, shipping included. During the three days leading up to Monday, June 16, Buy.com listed the same SKU at $89.95, a price cut of 10.3%. Amazon.com, meanwhile, lowered its price by 0.5%, from $95.15 to $94.68.

Newegg.com, on the other hand, raised its price by 6.3% in the past two weeks, from $79.99 to $84.99.

On eBay, the average lowest "Buy It Now" price, shipping included, for a legitimate copy of Windows XP Home OEM fell 2.2% in the past two weeks.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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