How to get and keep Windows XP after June 30

Microsoft may be sunsetting XP, but you'll still be able to buy it on some new systems--and support isn't going away for several years.

Windows XP is dead ... long live Windows XP. You may have heard that as of June 30, you're no longer able to buy the operating system or obtain support for it. But that isn't quite the case. In fact, you'll be able to buy XP on certain mainstream PCs at least until January 31, 2009, and possibly beyond. The cutoff date is even later for some ultra-low-cost notebooks such as those made by Asus: They'll sell with XP until June 2010. As for technical support, that has a lot of life left as well--officially, Microsoft will provide at least some forms of support until 2014.

Given the confusion about XP's future, we decided to lay out your options for buying XP and getting support for it beyond the official sunset date for the OS.

Not Dead Yet

Microsoft's public statement seems to leave no wiggle room. It reads, "Windows XP will no longer be available for purchase from Microsoft for general retail and OEM partners as of June 30, 2008."

But that simple statement hides plenty of loopholes. First, retailers and PC makers can still sell the Windows XP software, and Windows XP PCs, after that date, as long as they purchased the products before June 30. If a retailer stocked up on copies of XP before June 30, it can sell XP for as long as those supplies hold out. The same holds true for PC manufacturers.

An even bigger loophole--something called downgrade rights--will allow people to get Windows XP on new PCs, even after computer makers' stock of Windows XP licenses runs out. An OEM such as Dell can sell you a PC that starts out with Vista Business or Vista Ultimate on it, and then downgrade the operating system to Windows XP Professional before shipping the machine out to you. In the box, you will receive discs for Vista, XP, Vista drivers, and XP drivers. That way, if you decide you'd prefer Vista, you can use the installation disc and drivers to upgrade to that OS.

You can do this only with Vista PCs for which the OEM has decided to offer downgrade rights, however. A Dell spokesperson says that Dell will provide the option for its XPS line of gaming PCs (the XPS M1730 laptop, XPS 630 gaming desktop, and XPS 730 gaming desktop), for its line of Vostro small-business PCs, and for enterprise customers. Dell won't offer the choice indefinitely, though--only through January 31, 2009.

HP also offers a downgrade option on its business desktops, notebooks, and workstations, and will continue to do so until at least July 30, 2009, says a company spokesperson. As with Dell PCs, when someone buys a system, it will have XP Pro installed, and will come with discs for both XP and Vista.

January 31 of next year is also the last date you'll be able to buy XP on a machine from a "system builder"--a company that builds no-brand custom PCs from components and purchases Microsoft software from a distributor rather than directly from Microsoft itself.

If you buy an ultra-low-cost PC--which Microsoft describes as a notebook with "limited hardware capabilities" intended for entry-level buyers or people seeking an inexpensive second system--you're in luck. Such laptops, including the popular Asus Eee PC, can be sold with Windows XP until June 2010. The notebooks must have small screens and low-powered CPUs to qualify.

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Preston Gralla

PC World
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