Microsoft will shutter its Windows XP line June 30, as planned, ceasing sales of Windows XP Professional and Windows XP Home to retailers and direct OEMs, Microsoft confirmed to eWEEK April 3.
The statement from Redmond executives ends weeks of speculation that Microsoft would extend the life of the operating system as users turn up their nose at Vista, the operating system meant to supplant XP, and OEMs argue lighter versions of desktops and notebooks don't have the juice to run Vista.
Windows XP Home and Starter editions will still be preloaded on ultra-low-cost PCs through June 30, 2010, or one year after the launch of the next version of Windows - whichever comes first, the company said.
"Last fall, our OEM partners asked us to extend sales of Windows XP to give their customers more time to transition to Windows Vista while we worked with other software vendors to expand application compatibility," Michael Dix, the general manager for Windows Client, told eWEEK April 3.
That decision was based on market feedback from customers and Microsoft's OEM and retail partners, and this decision not to extend that date is also based on their feedback, he said.
"They are telling us that they feel good about these dates and that the market is ready. For those customers who actually want XP, we are providing enough time for them to actually get it and so we feel good about this being the right transition point," he said.
The decision to allow Windows XP on the ultra-low-cost PCs, or ULCPCs, reflected Microsoft's commitment to ensuring that Windows was available for this new and growing class of low-cost, hardware-constrained computers that were originally intended for consumers in emerging markets, Dix said.
This also effectively offered OEMs choices based on their plans and assessments of what the market needed and wanted. "They can elect to preload XP Home on these machines, a flavor of Vista or, in emerging markets, Starter Edition. As this category is still in its infancy, we wanted to give OEMs flexibility, which is how we approached it," Dix told eWEEK.
OEMs were considering a wide range of machine configurations in this category, and Windows Vista would be able to run on some of those. But, at the very low end, in the range of 2- and 4-gigabyte flash devices, those would run XP Home, he said.
"But in the middle- and high-end, it is up to the OEM which operating system they choose to offer there," he said.
But to Rob Enderle, the principal analyst for The Enderle Group, Vista just is too heavy for many of these devices and likely would not have been sold on them.
"For Microsoft, it was a choice of letting Linux go unchallenged in this segment or block it using XP, which provides a slightly better user experience and has some software compatibility advantages over most of the Linux implementations I've seen so far," he said. "They wisely chose not to hand this market to Linux on a silver platter, but Linux will improve while XP won't, and some of the Linux stuff I've seen lately is actually competitive with Apple."
Microsoft was also publishing some formal guidelines to enable manufacturers to build extremely hardware-constrained machines with less than 4GB flash-based storage, and which can run Windows well and please customers, Dix said.
Many of Microsoft's partners are now also offering affordable ULCPCs like Intel's Classmate PC and Asus' Eee PC in developed countries as well as in developing nations, he said.
Partner feedback and Microsoft's own internal research had found that customers preferred Windows on these machines as it was "a system they are familiar with, enables access to a vast ecosystem and provides them with a full operating system on these affordable PCs," Dix said.
Asked if these machines could run both Windows and Linux, Dix said that was up to the discretion of the OEM, but "my guess is that they are going to be discouraged from doing that because of the hardware constraints they are working with. Dual boot would require more space and partitioning an already small drive would be difficult to argue for," he said.
Asked how the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) played into this announcement, Dix said the challenge was that the OLPC's XO machine was even more extreme in its hardware constraints than the typical ULCPC being shown on OEM road maps.
As such, Microsoft had a separate team of engineers working on a port of Windows to that machine, as this required a lot more development and focus than the traditional ULCPC, he said.