Ballmer offers glimmer of hope for XP extension

If customers want XP, Microsoft might rethink its June 30 retirement date

Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer said there is a chance the company could reconsider its decision to begin retiring Windows XP on June 30, according to news reports from Belgium.

Later on Thursday, however, a U.S.-based spokeswoman for the company said that Microsoft's plans remain "unchanged."

Both the Associated Press and Reuters said Ballmer hinted that Windows XP's availability could be extended if customers lobby to keep the six-year-old operating system. So far, Ballmer said, they have not.

"XP will hit an end-of-life. We have announced one. If customer feedback varies, we can always wake up smarter, but right now we have a plan for end-of-life for new XP shipments," Reuters quoted Ballmer as saying.

Previously, Microsoft set June 30 as the end of XP for computer manufacturers, and the date when it would pull the OS from its retail list. Small shops and individuals pegged as "system builders," however, will be able to preinstall XP on assembled machines for another seven months..

"In the business environment, we still have customers who are buying PCs with XP," Ballmer acknowledged today.

In fact, according to Forrester Research Inc., use of Windows XP in business barely budged last year, even though Windows Vista debuted in January.

Forrester said that surveys of more than 50,000 corporate computer users showed that 89.5% of all Windows users were running XP at the beginning of 2007, and 89.8% were using it at year's end. Vista's share, meanwhile, reached 6.3% by the end of 2007, a gain that was almost exactly mirrored by a drop in Windows 2000 use.

Today was the second time in as many weeks that Ballmer hinted at a possible reprieve for XP.

Last week, during a talk at Microsoft's annual MVP — Most Valuable Professional — conference, he said, "We have a lot of customers that are choosing to stay with Windows XP, and as long as those are both important options, we will be sensitive, and we will listen, and we will hear that."

Like today, however, Ballmer stopped far short last week of actually changing XP's drop-dead date for OEMs and retail. "I know we're going to continue to get feedback from people on how long XP should be available," he said then. "We've got some opinions on that. We've expressed our views."

For all Ballmer's words, however, the official Microsoft line is that XP's retirement date hasn't moved. "Our plan for availability of Windows XP is unchanged," a spokeswoman said today in an e-mail. "We're confident that's the right thing to do based on the feedback we've heard from our customers and partners."

Yet even the spokeswoman left the door open a small crack. "But as Steve noted, we maintain a constant stance of listening to our customers and our partners. That's what is guiding our plan, and will continue to guide us going forward," she said.

Ballmer was in Belgium Thursday to help launch a new Microsoft facility in Mons, a city about 40 miles south of Brussels.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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