XP deathwatch: Your key questions answered

The following FAQ list appeared on Computerworld U.S.:

Even though it has had its own problems of late, Windows XP remainsthe most-used version of Windows. The newest data from Web metricsvendor Net Applications Inc., for example, pegs XP as driving 73% ofthe personal computers that went online last month, five times thenearest competitor, Microsoft Corp.’s own Windows Vista.

Which is why an impending deadline five weeks from today is important.

According to Microsoft, June 30 is the last day it will permitretailers and OEMs to sell the nearly-seven-year-old operating system.

You’ll have questions as that date approaches, including whether thedeadline will drive up prices (gouging, anyone?); we plan to have theanswers, starting with this FAQ and continuing through the end of nextmonth.

How long until Microsoft shuts off the XP spigot?Five weeks from today is the last day Microsoft will officially allowretailers to sell the old operating system, and let major computermakers — called “OEMs,” for “original equipment manufacturers” — tosell PCs with XP pre-installed.

Monday, June 30, is the EOL, or End-Of-Life, a term Dell Inc., notMicrosoft, has publicly used, for XP’s retail and OEM availability.

So what’s the June 18 date I’ve heard about? That’sthe day that Dell has said is the last possible day for its customersto buy a machine running Windows XP. “To meet Microsoft’s June 30last-day-to-ship OEM Windows XP deadline, June 18 is the last time topurchase a Dell laptop, desktop, or workstation with an OEM Windows XPlicense,” Dell says on its Web site.

Other big-name OEMs, such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Lenovo, havenot announced cut-off dates, but must also abide by Microsoft’s rulesthat no XP-based system ships after June 30.

Are there any loopholes? Sure, and they’re bigenough to steer the Titanic through. A “downgrade” clause inMicrosoft’s guidelines for OEMs lets computer makers install Windows XPProfessional — but not the more common and less expensive Windows XPHome — on new PCs at customer request when those machines are orderedwith Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate.

Dell took advantage of the clause to announce last month that itwould use the downgrade rights of Vista Business and Vista Ultimate toinstall XP Professional free of charge at the factory. Assumingcustomers want to, they can later use the included Vista installationmedia to upgrade from XP Professional. of the clause Other vendors aredoing similar things. HP, for example, also offers a freeat-the-factory XP Professional downgrade option on some systems soldwith Vista Business.

Can I still buy Windows XP? Absolutely. In fact, we’ve started tracking retail availability and pricing at three popular online technology outlets – Amazon.comBuy.com and Newegg.com — to gauge whether the operating system is in stock and what it’s selling for.

For the three-day stretch leading up to Monday, May 26, all threeoutlets have Windows XP Home OEM — the least-expensive version of theOS, but also the one that comes with the most restrictions — in stockand ready to ship for those who want to downgrade a Vista machine ontheir own, or who prefer to have a backup license in hand.

The prices for May 26, shipping included, were $95.15 at Amazon.com, $100.24 at Buy.com, and $89.99 at Newegg.com.

We’ll revisit those stores on a regular basis, and report ourfindings in future FAQs or stories in the run-up to the June 30 EOL.

Will I be able to buy Windows XP after June 30?Affirmative. There’s already a healthy market for the workhorse oneBay, the online auction site that sells both old and new stuff. Thatwon’t disappear overnight.

Again, we’ve started tracking eBay’s listings for a couple ofWindows XP metrics: How many items pop up when a search using thestring “windows xp” is run on the site, and the current lowest “Buy ItNow” price for Windows XP Home OEM.

We tried several different searches on eBay. During the three daysprior to the 26th we found 1,804 results for “windows xp;” 1,080results for “windows xp” narrowed down to listing strictly in the“Software” category; and 675 results for “windows xp” narrowed to notjust the Software category but by “operating system” and “windows.” Theauction site’s lowest prices, shipping included, for a legitimate copyof Windows XP Home OEM for the three days were $91.75 for May 23 and 24(that is, Friday and Saturday), with a slight uptick to $92.00 onSunday.

We’ll monitor eBay’s XP listings and prices to see if, for example,more sellers start flogging the OS as June 30 approaches, and whetherprices move as the end draws near.

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