— Windows XP, R.I.P. — at least for most buyers of new PCs.
On Monday, Microsoft will stop selling copies of the operating system to retailers and computer manufacturers. There are exceptions: Until June 2010, manufacturers of limited and lower-cost computers can place Windows XP Home on the machines, and small businesses that custom-build PCs will be able to install XP on computers through Jan. 31, 2009.
"We've spent more than a year consulting with our customers and industry partners to ensure that we're doing the right thing," Microsoft says at its Web site, "The Future of Windows XP." (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal).
"We understand that not everyone may agree with our decision — just as not everyone was happy to see Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows ME retire (OK, perhaps not ME)."
Well, credit the company for a sense of humor and for recognizing that the operating system before Windows XP was as loathed as the one that followed it, Windows Vista.
Vista, released early last year, has been scorned for several reasons. It runs better on newer computers with faster chips and more memory than on older or economy-scale PCs.
Many consumers and businesses have not wanted to spend the money to buy new PCs and the software and peripheral equipment needed to work with Vista. Also, all the drivers, or software programs, needed for Vista have not been available, something that is starting to change.
“It’s not a huge surprise that just over half the enterprises we surveyed don’t yet have Windows Vista deployment plans,” said Forrester Research in an April report. “Others are simply taking a wait-and-see approach.”
Even Intel, which makes the processor chips for PCs and Macs, is apparently staying away from Vista. The company has decided not to upgrade its computers to Vista, finding “no compelling case” to do so, according to “a person with direct knowledge of the company’s plans,” The New York Times reported this week.
InfoWorld, a publication geared to information technology professionals, also found that IT managers and chief technology officers have not been eager to move to Vista.
In January, the publication launched an online petition drive, “Save Windows XP” that has now garnered more than 209,000 signatures. Eric Knorr, InfoWorld editor-in-chief, said the petition drive continues, "sort of a stay-of-execution plea" with hopes that Microsoft will listen.
On its site, Microsoft acknowledged the petition effort and the e-mails it has been receiving about keeping Windows XP in circulation, but said “commitment to innovation sometimes means making tough choices. This is one of them.”
Businesses and individuals that buy a new PC with either Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate on it have the option of “downgrading” to Windows XP Professional through Jan. 31, 2009, according to Microsoft.
Computer maker Dell, which had planned to stop selling Windows XP earlier this month, recently declared June 26 as the final day to purchase a Dell desktop PC with a Windows XP license, in order to meet Microsoft’s “last-day-to-ship” deadline of June 30.
“Extended by popular demand,” Dell’s site says in promoting its Inspiron models loaded with Windows XP Home.
Stores that carry XP can still sell it if they have it in stock.
“We still have some limited inventory” of Windows XP, said Jeff Dudash, national spokesman for the Best Buy retail chain. As far as PCs, “We stopped selling systems pre-loaded with XP in February 2007,” shortly after Windows Vista came on the market.
Microsoft, which last month released Service Pack 3 for Windows XP, with various operating system fixes, will continue to provide mainstream support for it through next April.
Extended support, including security updates, will continue through April 2014.
As of June, Windows XP, which was released in 2001, had 72 percent of the operating market share, with Vista at a little more than 15 percent, according to Net Applications.
Microsoft says it has sold more than 140 million copies of Windows Vista, “making it the fastest-selling operating system in Microsoft history.”
“The death of Windows Vista has been greatly exaggerated,” IDC Research said in a report earlier this year. The operating system has “compelling features for consumers and for business users. These features will see acceptance —and potentially love — over the longer term.”
Love might be too much to ask for; acceptance — maybe. Microsoft is taking steps to do some damage control by continuing to offer Windows XP Home on lower-end, lower-cost PCs for another two years, while trying to speed up delivery of its next operating system, now called Windows 7, to late 2009.
Low-cost PC market
Lower-cost PCs, which sell for between $300 and $500, represent a growing market, one that originally was aimed at new PC users in developing countries, as well as students, but now includes those who simply want a basic computer, or a second or third PC for the household.
The computers have few audio and video bells and whistles, but are considered adequate for basic tasks such as e-mail and surfing the Internet.
Many of the devices — sometimes referred to as nettops, netbooks or ultra-low-cost PCs — generally come with little memory, storage and small screen sizes of 7 to 10 inches. Many come with Linux operating system installed.
Microsoft said earlier this month it is looking to expand its role in the market, and is working with more than 20 manufacturers, including Asus, which makes the low-cost Eee PC, as well as Dell, HP, Lenovo and Quanta, to provide both Windows XP Home and Windows XP Starter Edition on such computers.
In a recent letter to Windows customers posted on Microsoft’s site, Bill Veghte, senior vice-president, explained “important progress” that has been made with Vista.
When the operating system went on the market, “many hardware drivers and applications needed to be updated, and while the majority worked well when we launched Windows Vista, some key applications and drivers were not yet available,” Veghte wrote. “Since then, Microsoft and its industry partners have been hard at work to address compatibility issues and now the situation is fundamentally different.”
He also noted Vista Service Pack 1, released this spring, provides improved “performance, compatibility and reliability.”