Windows XP Licensing Extended for Low-Cost PCs

Microsoft yesterday provided new details about the life of its popular Windows XP operating system. The company plans to extend the licensing of Windows XP Home version, but only to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that plan to include the OS in "ultra-low-cost personal computers."

OEMs building such PCs will have access to Windows XP Home version licenses "until the later of June 30, 2010, or one year after general availability of the next version of Windows," according to Microsoft's announcement.

The allusion to "the next version of Windows" refers to an OS version currently under development by Microsoft, code-named "Windows 7." An interview with a Microsoft official published last year predicted that Windows 7 would have a ship date of 2010. However, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates may have suggested that it will appear "in the next year or so," according to an Ina Fried blog, published April 4, 2008.

Essentially, the death of Windows XP Home licensing will happen with the delivery of Windows 7. However, this extended licensing date for Windows XP only applies to sales of new ultra-low-cost PCs. Users expecting to buy PCs with more typical hardware specs installed with Windows XP may be cut off in a couple of months if Microsoft keeps to its schedule.

"There is no plan to extend sales of other editions of Windows XP beyond June 30, 2008," stated Michael Dix, Microsoft's general manager of Windows client product management, in a press release.

That date doesn't apply to technical support, which remains as initially stated by Microsoft. The company has stated that it plans to continue to provide free "mainstream support" to Windows XP users until April 2009. Those buying "extended support" (except for security fixes, which are free) can have it through April 2014.

Dix described these low-cost machines as "a new and growing class of mobile computers" with "limited hardware capabilities." He suggested that the PCs had initially been designed for "emerging markets," but that "developed countries" have shown an interest in them as well, according to Microsoft's announcement.

Microsoft's most current operating system, Windows Vista, is typically thought to need at least two gigabytes of RAM to utilize all of its features -- something that these lower cost PCs are not expected to have.

Microsoft has published some design guidelines for OEMs to build these ultra-low-cost PCs using Windows XP's specs, which can be accessed here (PDF). Dix indicated that some of these PCs will use "under 4 GB Flash-based storage."

One example of such a machine is Asus' Eee PC, in which files are stored on Flash drives (or "solid-state storage) as small as 2 GB. These compact laptop computers with seven-inch screens typically have been sold with a Linux operating system installed. However, Asus announced in early March of this year that the Eee PC is now available running Windows XP.

Despite what Microsoft states about the demise of Windows XP, at least one observer sees a loophole, predicting that Windows XP will still be available for installation on new devices until January 31, 2009.

Currently, Windows XP remains as the most widely used version of Microsoft's operating systems, with a 73.6 percent market share in March of 2008, according to the Net Applications Web site. Windows Vista, in contrast, held just 14 percent of that market.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.