FAQ: XP deathwatch, T minus 2 weeks

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

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's deadline for mainstream computer makers to stop selling new PCs with the old OS, 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 what 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 it would let makers of another class of computers -- low-cost desktop PCs -- preinstall XP Home through the end of June 2011.

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

Microsoft claimed the turn-about originated with requests from customers, including OEM partners, but said nothing about drubbing rival operating systems, Linux primarily, 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, Acer and Lenovo Group -- confirmed last week that they will sell XP-equipped machines up to and including June 30.

Only Dell, ranked second in sales last quarter by Gartner and IDC, plans to put an end to XP PCs 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.

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