How Microsoft

How Microsoft’s products are born and how they die: Part 3

The final article of a three-part series by David DeJean of Computerworld

In the first two instalments of this series, we told you about the history of Microsoft Corp.’s product lifecycle guidelines, how they support service packs, and how Microsoft handled Windows XP much differently.

Despite hint’s from CEO Steve Ballmer the company could extend support,we’re in for an interesting few weeks between now and June 30, when thecompany is scheduled to stop selling XP through its retail and OEMchannels.
XP won’t suddenly disappear on June 30. It will take some time for PCsloaded with XP to move from factories to warehouses to sellers tobuyers. Shrink-wrapped FPP versions of the various editions of XP willalso remain on sale until supplies are exhausted. And even after June30, there will still be two ways to obtain XP until January 31, 2009.

The easiest way will be to buy a new PC with XP installed from a“white box” system builder. It will, of course, be an OEM version ofthe operating system (white box builders tend to use the same OEMversions as the larger vendors), which is tied to the PC it’s installedon and can’t be transferred to another computer.

Or you can buy a new PC with an OEM version of Vista Business or Vista Ultimate installed and downgrade to XP.
There are enough pain points in this process that you won’t want toundertake it lightly. While you may have the right to downgrade, themaker of your PC isn’t obliged to supply an XP install disk. If it’simportant to you, check before you buy. And while you can reinstallVista later on, you have to do it from the installation files or mediayou got with the machine, so don’t wipe those out by accident.

You won’t be able to activate your new XP install with itspreviously used product key across the Internet, either. A query toMicrosoft on this last point produced the following clarification:

Does that make everything clearer?

Support goes on
Although the sales lifecycle starts to wind down on June 30, you cankeep on using XP for as long as you want to. You might want to run XPuntil the next version of Windows, currently called “Windows 7,” comesout — it’s expected in 2010. Or you might want to give some other OS alittle more time to mature — perhaps you think that Ubuntu Linux isjust a couple of versions away from real usability.

In both these cases, time is on your side. There won’t be anychanges in XP support until April 14, 2009, when Windows XP ServicePack 2 moves from “mainstream” support to “extended” support. Extendedsupport’s security fixes should certainly keep you going safely untilApril 8, 2014, or until Windows 7 actually does ship, whichever comesfirst.

The problem is, there’s support and then there’s support. The lasttime Microsoft ended mainstream support for a version of Windows was inJune 2005, when it stopped supporting Windows 2000. By the end of 2006,major software vendors had also ended their support for the OS. Newproducts didn’t support Windows 2000, and upgrades of existing Win2Kproducts to new versions weren’t available.

This lack of upgrades to run on defunct operating systems is anatural result of market forces. Application software makers, just likeMicrosoft, want to minimize their support costs by supporting theirproducts on as few operating-system versions as economically possible,so when an OS version’s percentage of the installed base falls belowits potential to contribute to the bottom line, the vendor will cut itssupport — and deflect complaints by pointing at Microsoft.

XP is certainly much more widely used than Win2K, and it willprobably be supported by application vendors for a lot longer as aresult. But if you really want to stay with XP, you should be preparedto stay with your current applications as well. There may not be anyupgrades.

Finally, there is one more factor that might stretch out the life ofXP a bit. Benjamin Gray, an analyst at Forrester Research, predictedlast fall that Service Pack 3 for XP, which will ship later this year,may play a part. Big corporate customers are still looking forward toXP SP3, and Gray said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft extendmainstream support for this updated version of the OS past April 2009in response to pressure from the enterprise market.
If you’re clinging to XP because you’re waiting for that stability andcompatibility, whether in Vista or in the next version of Windows, orjust because you’re entirely happy with XP and see no reason to change,then the product lifecycle guidelines are your friend. The combinationof mainstream and extended support will give you several years ofprotection.

And even if you find in a couple of years that you can’t get an XPversion of some upgraded application, extended support means that yourXP machine still has some life expectancy — you won’t have to junk itjust because it’s become a malware magnet.

But if you’re holding onto XP because you’re just purely mad atMicrosoft, or your PC won’t run Vista anyway, then you’re only buyingtime. Sooner or later, it’s inevitable. Whether you love Vista or hateit, merely tolerate XP or won’t give it up until it’s pried from yourcold, dead fingers, it will be gone. The product lifecycle guidelinessay so.

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