Microsoft extends XP deadline for low-cost PCs

PC makers can now include Windows XP in low-cost desktop systems until 2010

Microsoft has further extended the life of Windows XP so that computer makers can include the operating system on low-cost desktop PCs, the company announced at the Computex trade show on Tuesday.

Microsoft has been under pressure from computer makers to provide a version of its OS for an emerging class of very low-cost laptops and desktops. Its new Windows Vista OS is widely seen as too resource-hungry for those machines.

In April Microsoft extended its deadline for selling Windows XP licenses for low-cost laptops like the Asus Eee PC. It had originally planned to stop selling most XP licenses on June 30.

At Computex on Tuesday it said it has now also extended the deadline for low-cost desktops. PC makers can now include Windows XP in those systems until 2010, the same as the deadline for low-cost laptops, said Rob Young, a senior director with Microsoft's OEM group.

In a statement, Microsoft said the extension applies to "nettops," a term coined by Intel to refer to low-cost desktops that have limited system configurations and are intended for simple tasks like surfing the Internet and sending email. Examples include the upcoming Asus Eee Box, which is on show here at Computex.

It was unclear what limitations Microsoft may put on PC makers to prevent them from installing Windows XP on more capable machines. Young said Microsoft and PC vendors are in general agreement over what constitutes a nettop and suggested that Microsoft won't specify the hardware configurations that vendors can use with XP.

Microsoft said it was responding to the growing popularity of nettops and netbooks, and to demands from PC makers to provide a suitable OS for those machines.

"We've had a lot of feedback from customers and partners, and they're very interested in seeing these devices with Windows on them," said Steve Guggenheimer, the head of Microsoft's OEM business, during a speech at Computex.

Microsoft's statement was ambiguous, saying only that it would extend the deadline for "the Windows offering" to include nettops. Young confirmed that the extension applies to Windows XP.

"We have seen much demand for Windows on the Eee PC," Jerry Shen, CEO of Asustek Computer, said in the statement. "It is great that Microsoft is addressing this customer demand and providing a Windows solution on these devices, which will provide a familiar computing experience."

Intel has said nettops and netbooks are intended as a second PC for the home or for people in developing countries who can't afford a full-featured PC. However, Guggenheimer acknowledged Tuesday that no one knows yet where the devices will prove popular.

"We've had standalone Internet devices come out before, not too many of them have been successful, but now we are getting towards the right price points," he said. "How they'll land and who will buy them we don't really know yet, but we'll wait and see."

Netbooks and nettops are intended to be powerful enough to consume content, such as streaming video, but not powerful enough for content creation tasks like video editing. Many will use Intel's new Atom chips or Via's low-power C7 processor.

The Eee Box is due to go on sale in July for about US$300 and will be offered with Windows XP or Linux. It will come with a maximum hard drive capacity of 250G bytes and use 802.11n Wi-Fi for Internet access.

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James Niccolai

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