FAQ: XP deathwatch, T minus 1 week

Dell gives XP a final chance and after June 30, the 'XP tax' kicks in

One week. That's how long before Microsoft pulls the plug, more or less, on Windows XP.

Next Monday, June 30, Microsoft will mark a milestone for the seven-year-old operating system when it stops providing licenses to larger computer makers and halts shipments of boxed copies to retailers. At that point, Windows XP, which received a five-month extension back in September 2007, looks like it will, after all, go quietly into the night.

But that doesn't mean new questions haven't popped up since last week, when we ran the most recent installment in our FAQ series. Did Dell really stop selling PCs with XP installed, as it swore it would? And what's all this about a tax on XP?

Any new signs that Microsoft plans to grant a last-minute pardon?

Not in the past week, no.

Did Dell stop selling PCs with XP preinstalled, as it promised?

No. It did yank XP options from virtually all of its Inspiron consumer brand, which comes in both desktop and laptop editions, last Thursday, as it said it would. Dell also stopped offering the older operating system on most of the higher-end XPS consumer line, as well as its small business and enterprise machines.

But in a turn-about on Friday, Dell announced that it would continue to sell three models of the Inspiron 530 with XP until early Thursday, June 26. "Extended by popular demand," a sales page in Dell's online store now reads. "Offer ends 6/26/08 @ 5:59 a.m. CT [Central Time]"

The three 530 configurations start at US$549, and can be ordered with either Windows XP Home, or for an additional $20, XP Professional.

As promised two months ago, Dell also offers a factory-install option for Windows XP Professional on some new machines by using the downgrade rights build into Vista Business and Vista Ultimate. As of last Thursday, Dell offered the option on its entire small business line -- the Vostro, Latitude, OptiPlex and Precision brands -- and for three configurations in the XPS brand: the 630 and 720 H2C desktops, and the M1730 notebook.

Are other computer makers still selling XP systems?

Theoretically, yes, but practically speaking, only as downgrades.

Hewlett-Packard, for example, which previously had said it would continue to make XP available until June 30 on a "select number of consumer notebook, gaming and business products," didn't show anything but Vista on any of its consumer models sold through its online store when we researched it on Sunday, June 22.

An HP sales representative identified only as Ruby confirmed as much in an online chat. "I am sorry, but that is not a product line we carry here at our store," said Ruby. Instead, she recommended we look through HP's small- and mid-sized business (SMB) banner, where HP preinstalls XP using Vista downgrade rights on some systems -- just as it does on some machines it sells from its enterprise section.

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