On Thursday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (right) conceded that Microsoft could continue selling its Windows XP operating system past the current end-of-life date -- June 30 -- if there was sufficient market demand for it.
"XP will hit an end-of-life. We have announced one. If customer feedback varies, we can always wake up smarter, but right now we have a plan for end-of-life for new XP shipments," said Ballmer, who was speaking at a press conference to announce a new "innovation centre" in the city of Mons in Belgium.
Ballmer admitted, "In the business environment, we still have customers who are buying PCs with XP." But he chalked that up to the fact that IT departments are slow adopters of new operating systems because they prefer to standardize.
However, according to data from Forrester Research, the latest enterprise adoption numbers for Windows Vista are ugly. As reported by Computerworld:
Forrester said that surveys of more than 50,000 corporate computer users showed that 89.5% of all Windows users were running XP at the beginning of 2007, and 89.8% were using it at year's end. Vista's share, meanwhile, reached 6.3% by the end of 2007, a gain that was almost exactly mirrored by a drop in Windows 2000 use.
Meanwhile, a new report from InformationWeek on Thursday indicated that Dell will use a loophole in its Windows licensing agreement to continue selling Windows XP on business machines through 2010:
Buyers who want a Dell system with XP pre-installed after June 30 will technically be purchasing a system with a license for Vista. However, Dell will also include a preinstalled copy of XP on systems marketed as Windows Vista "Bonus" edition...
[Dell's] OS license agreement allows users to downgrade a purchased operating system to the previous version at no additional charge. Dell is simply making it easier for its customers to exercise that option by pre-installing XP long after its official expiration.
On Monday, I predicted that Microsoft will leapfrog Vista, release Windows 7 early, and change its OS business. If Microsoft extends the lifcycle of Windows XP, it will only make that scenario more likely.
Bottom line for IT leaders
For enterprise IT departments, it doesn't really matter how long Microsoft officially sells Windows XP because if they have an existing site license for Windows then they can continue to install Windows XP for many years to come. Most big IT departments buy their PCs without operating systems pre-installed, or wipe them them out and replace them with the company's OS image.
However, for small businesses and independent contractors, this is a big deal because if they want to continue to avoid Vista, they will need help from OEMs like Dell in order to keep getting Windows XP on new machines past June 30. If you would like to see Microsoft continue to sell Windows XP, now is the time to speak up about it. You can e-mail Steve Ballmer at email@example.com.
Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.