How to get XP after June 30

James Gaskin of Network World wrote this report, which gives youadvice on how to scrounge a machine with Windows XP, without payingthrough the nose for Vista only to downgrade. Microsoft stops sellingXP next week.

Microsoft warned us well over a year ago that XP will Die Die Die,at least on new computers, by the end of June, 2008. Petitions andprayers notwithstanding, XP has a firm date with Boot Hill. RIP, XP.
Change is the only constant and we need to embrace new things, yadayada yada, but this is business. Many voices in the tech biz complainabout Vista, with good reason. I have yet to see an advantage for smallbusinesses that Vista provides over Windows 2000 with a handful ofthird party utilities. Even some Microsoft apologists will apologizefor Vista when you force them to tell the truth.

All this is beside the point. Do you really need to ensure everyadded computer comes into your business with XP for valid technicalreasons, such as special software you wrote that doesn’t work withVista? (a problem for big companies that write their own software). Orare you just afraid of change, or afraid of spending the money that ajump to Vista often demands? Let me show you a way to sidestep bothproblems and avoid Vista a bit longer, maybe even another two or threeyears.

First, check out the refurbished desktops and laptops at the majorbrand outlets. Prefer Dell? HP? Gateway? Lenovo? They all have factorydirect refurbished systems for sale, and some still have XP installed.But this option won’t last long, because refurbished systems areusually those computers returned by users who either didn’t like themor couldn’t figure them out, so they tend to be fairly new. Many ofthem have already been infected with Vista, so you’ll have to act quickto grab the last XP systems from the refurb piles at major vendors.

Second, check systems that have been returned after their lease termfrom huge corporations refreshing their desktop and laptop inventories.Companies tend to keep their systems three or four years beforereplacing them, so the off-lease systems available today were purchasedoriginally in 2004 or 2005, prime XP years. When the hard disks arewiped (and they will be from reputable outlets), the original OS getsput back on. Almost all off-lease systems include the WindowsCertificate of Authority label on the box and XP on the drive.Sometimes these systems are labeled off-lease, recertified, orreconditioned, depending on the outlet.

I trust uBid.comfor the systems I buy for my small business test lab. When my wifewanted a new system last December, I got a refurbished Gateway desktopfor her, with XP. Prices range from under US$100 for older P4 systemsto $600 for newer high end systems. Prices vary considerably based onmany factors, so shop carefully. A good deal today can be beat by agreat deal tomorrow, and vice versa. But in the refurbished computerlistings, many systems are new enough to have Vista installed, so uBidmay not be a good answer for too much longer.

Let’s go to the Web. Search for “off-lease computers” and you’llfind over 300,000 listings. The majority of these are small resellersthat buy off-lease systems, check them out at least a little (somesites offer decent warranties), and sell them online. When you lookinto the computer recycling business, you’ll find an entire ecosystemof buyers, sellers, middlemen, and outlets for everything ranging fromcomplete computers to metal computer cases sold by the ton for scrap.Check out resellers in this business near you (they are everywhere) andyou can tap this enormous resource as well.

What do I think about eBay as an option? Be aware that some legalauthorities believe that up to 40% of all eBay items listed are stolen.Buying from sellers with online stores, not just individuals, willincrease your odds of a “clean” machine. I have learned the hard waynever to buy from a seller that doesn’t include Buyer Protection tocover the amount of the purchase. You have to use PayPal to get thatpeace of mind, but it’s worth it to me.

That said, I just checked desktops and used XP as a filter in the“PC Desktops Finder” listing on the left side of the eBay page, and1,631 computers popped up. You can also search by brand, processor typeand speed, amount of memory, hard drive capacity, and condition as wellas putting in keywords, as I did with the XP test. When I put in“refurbished” for condition and left XP as the search keyword, 607desktop computers appeared.

The final option is to bite the proverbial bullet, try Vista, andsee if it will hurt as much as you think. Get a refurbished system withVista, even if you have to pay maybe $50 more than a similar systemwith XP. Try your software and you might be surprised. When HP sent mea Vista system last year, the first thing I did was load up the Firefoxbrowser and the office suite from OpenOffice. Both ran great with narya hiccup.

Vista is inevitable, and the demise of XP this month emphasizes thatpoint. You can delay Vista and save money at the same time, but youcan’t run forever. And upgrades from Microsoft have taken much of thepain away from Vista migration. It still stings, but you can live withit. Just remember you can buy smart and save money on new computers,even with Vista.

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