Users pry XP reprieve from Microsoft

The company said Windows XP SP2, first released in September 2004, will now be available until June 30, 2008

Microsoft, clearly getting an earful from corporate users over the rapid demise of XP to make way for Vista, has responded by committing to extend the availability of XP for another five months.

The company said last week Windows XP SP2, first released in Sept. 2004, will now be available until June 30, 2008 on an OEM basis and from retail channels. The company had intended to cut off availability to the operating system on January 30, 2008.

In addition, Microsoft said Windows XP Starter Edition, which is targeted at emerging markets, would continue to be available until June 30, 2010.

"Microsoft realized what they were trying to do was not in sync with what customers were going to do (stay on XP) and they had to get in sync otherwise they were going to force feed customers something they were not going to be happy with," said Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC.

But Gillen says the unhappiness isn't all about Vista technology, which has taken hits around application compatibility, VPN support and hardware requirements, but rather the fact that companies, especially small and midsize businesses, aren't ready or willing to make a switch.

"Do organizations want two client operating systems? The answer is no. They want to avoid that as long as possible," says Gillen.

A survey in May conducted by Walker Information for IT services and product supplier CDW, showed that more users were starting to evaluate and deploy Windows Vista but that they were showing more concern over perceived performance and patching improvements and the operating system's hardware requirements.

"Our forecasts were that over the course of this year only about a quarter to a third of Windows Vista shipped out to businesses would be used without getting downgraded to XP," says Gillen. Licensing rights allow users to "downgrade" to the previous operating system when they roll out new desktops and then upgrade when they are ready.

"This is normal customer behavior, but I can assure you that most corporate customers that are putting in new PCs today are deploying XP because organizationally they have not yet moved to Vista."

Any operating system migration means for some period of time that users must maintain two different operating systems that require two sets of administrative skills, two sets of patches and new training classes.

"If anything, Microsoft was overly optimistic about what they could do with Vista in the first 12 months. But they are always overly optimistic," says Gillen.

As recently as April, Microsoft was giddy about Vista adoption when CEO Steve Ballmer announced Citigroup would upgrade 500,000 PCs to Vista. That was followed in July by the announcement that Microsoft had shipped 60 million copies of Vista. The announcements were part of a series designed to show growing acceptance.

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