Microsoft Partners to Keep Windows XP in Play

OEMs have been telling Microsoft a set of customers will need to run Windows XP beyond the year limit initially set.

Microsofts OEM and retail partners will offer Windows XP for an additional five months—until June 30, 2008—the software maker has decided after receiving complaints that customers are not ready to cut off and switch to Vista.

OEMs have been telling Microsoft that a small set of customers need to run Windows XP for longer than the year limit initially set, Mike Nash, Microsofts corporate vice president for Windows product management, told eWEEK.

The Redmond, Wash., software maker initially told those partners they could offer XP until Jan. 31, 2008—a year after the general availability of Windows Vista. "In retrospect, the original policy may have been a bit too aggressive, and we have been hearing back from customers, largely through our OEM partners, that that was the case," Nash said.

"Some customers, especially small businesses, dont have the benefit of an IT staff to help them evaluate and deploy new versions of the operating system. As a result, the transition is more challenging for them," he said.

Despite the recent surge of OEMs and PC makers already offering customers the ability to downgrade their new Vista machines to Windows XP, Nash said the uprising is only coming from a small set of customers and the extension should alleviate any concerns and give its customers and OEM partners comfort. There is little chance the June 30 date will be extended, he said.


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But Rob Enderle, an analyst with The Enderle Group, contradicts that assessment and is unconvinced the five-month extension will be sufficient. He predicts Microsoft will likely to extend it again with enough pressure, given that sales of Vista have also been slow.

"Vista adoption is well below where I thought it would be by now," he said. "Corporations arent even close to being ready for Vista, and many of us have been expecting this move. The biggest issue is that most dont seem to see the value in the product. Right now the majority of the comments Im getting would indicate the people that dont want Vista right now are in the majority."


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But Nash was upbeat about Vistas sales momentum, pointing to the fact that more than 60 million licenses have been sold as of this summer. "Windows Vista is on track to be the fastest selling operating system in Microsofts history," he said.

The move also means that the first service pack for Vista is likely to have shipped by the time OEMs and retailers stop offering Windows XP, since Microsoft currently plans to release Vista SP1 to manufacturing in the first quarter of 2008.

Asked if there is a link between the fact that some customers will only consider a new operating system once the first service pack has been released and the timing of this move, Nash said that while that was the case in the past, it really does not apply anymore as there are now many other ways to update the software.

"Today, with tools like Windows Update, Automatic Updates and a number of third-party tools for updating, the need to wait for those critical updates is greatly reduced," he said.


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Customers can also now more easily get the device drivers they need from Windows Update or off Microsofts partner Web sites, Nash said, adding that at the time of Vistas release there were 1.4 million device drivers supported, which has risen to more than 2 million currently. "Customers do not have to wait for a service pack to take advantage of that support," he said.

Enderle disagrees with that premise as well, saying that people have been "well-trained" to wait for SP1 and it will likely take years to train them otherwise.

"Vista wasnt a good start in that regard," he said. "Also, getting a high-volume, high-risk product like Vista into a large company requires SP1. Im testing the beta for SP1, which seems to address the majority of the problems blocking Vista, but Microsofts marketing has been incredibly weak. I expect they will also address that once SP1 ships."

Microsofts system builder partners can still offer Windows XP until Jan. 30, 2009. "That plan has not changed as the customers those partners appeal to have pretty unique needs," Nash said, "and we have consistently given them more time to continue offering older versions of Windows."


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