Another Windows XP reprieve unlikely, analysts say

While Microsoft may keep XP alive for low-cost laptops, there's little chance XP will get a second general stay

Microsoft may be set to extend Windows XP's availability for low-cost laptops and a new generation of handheld devices, but it won't give the aged operating system a general reprieve from its June 30 retail and OEM cut-off, analysts said Tuesday.

"Not likely," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry, citing Microsoft's need to push Windows Vista.

"XP has had one reprieve already," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with JupiterResearch. "And there are ways they can extend the life of the technology without extending the life of the XP brand."

Last September, Microsoft gave Windows XP a five-month stay, saying it would continue selling the operating system to large computer makers and at retail through the end of June, rather than call it quits January 31, 2008, which had been its original plan.

Tuesday, reports surfaced that said Microsoft would also relax the June 30 deadline for low-cost laptops, such as the Asus Eee, and the low-priced pocket devices which plan to use Intel's Atom processors. Those laptops and devices will lack the horsepower to run Windows Vista.

"There's clearly a need for something like XP in the mobile or ultramobile market, where it shines relative to Vista," Gartenberg said.

Cherry agreed that Vista has no place on low-powered hardware, but said Microsoft was in a tough spot. If Vista's specifications preclude its use on laptops in the US$200 to $300 range, as they certainly do, and Microsoft doesn't want to cede the turf to Linux, its only choice is XP. Yet Cherry said Microsoft would put XP to bed if it could.

"Regardless of what happens, at the end of the day we've got XP, Vista -- all five versions of it -- and then Windows 7 coming along," Cherry said. "How long can they keep maintaining three big globs of code?"

But if the people are expecting Microsoft to lengthen the lifespan of Windows XP for all users, they're dreaming, Cherry continued. "I think it's likely that Microsoft will extend the deadline, but I don't think everyone will like what it is. They won't keep it alive for all."

Cherry again cited the difficulty of maintaining the code base for XP at the same time it makes the case for Vista and develops Windows 7. He also dismissed the fact that last September, Microsoft promised to make Windows XP Starter Edition available in emerging markets -- generally defined as countries such as China, India, Russia and the like -- through June 2010. "There's a difference between maintaining something like XP Starter and XP for anyone who wants it," Cherry argued.

Interest in Windows XP's longevity has been driven by several factors, including the approaching June 30 deadline and the imminent release of another service pack, but the biggest reason users seem to want XP to live is a general reluctance to upgrade to Windows Vista.

Earlier this week, Forrester Research released results of monthly surveys during 2007 that polled more than 50,000 enterprise computer users. According to the surveys, Windows XP usage remained constant throughout the year at slightly over 89 per cent of all Windows users in businesses. Windows Vista, meanwhile, grew from nearly nothing to just over 6%, but appeared to get its gains at the expense of Windows 2000, not the dominant Windows XP.

A Forrester researcher said the data hinted that companies might hang on to Windows XP until the next iteration, Windows 7, is available in late 2009 or early 2010, skipping Vista altogether.

Gartenberg acknowledged the pressure to push out XP's drop-dead date came from Vista's troubles. "In the past you could argue that the latest and greatest from Microsoft was better. But for many people and businesses, that just doesn't fly this time.

"It boils down to the simple question," he continued. "If Microsoft can't convince their customers to move to Vista, will they will be able to kill XP?"

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Gregg Keizer

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