Microsoft plans to continue offering Windows XP for netbooks after the release of its next-generation operating system, Windows 7.
"OEMs that are using Windows XP on netbooks will have the ability to install Windows XP for one year - 12 months - after Windows 7 general availability," said Mike Nash, corporate vice president of the Windows product management group at Microsoft, during a conference call with reporters.
The continued availability of Windows XP during a transition period after Windows 7's release will reassure users who have avoided upgrading to Windows Vista and may be wary of the new operating system.
Nash declined to say when Windows 7 will be commercially available, despite Microsoft making the final beta version - called a release candidate (RC) - available to testers today.
The distribution of the RC is one of the last steps before the Windows 7 code is locked down and sent off to manufacturers ahead of its commercial release.
The reluctance to nail down a release date is understandable. The PC market is in a fragile state, with shipments much lower than last year.
Preannouncing the release date of Windows 7 could convince some users to delay buying new computers, further depressing the market for computers.
What impact Windows 7 will have on netbook pricing isn't clear. Nash declined to comment on Windows 7 pricing, even in relative terms.
But he said users of netbooks and other computers will like what they see when the new operating system is released, particularly those users who've been using Windows Vista.
"It's been a long time since we've had a version of Windows that will actually run better [than the previous version] on the hardware that most customers have," Nash said.