For years, the computer users with the strongest personal allegiance to a particular operating system (OS) were Mac addicts and Linux devotees. In contrast, most Windows users stuck to Microsoft’s desktop OS simply because it was the default on most PCs.

After years of using it, Windows was straightforward, simple to use and familiar. While some techies tweaked and refined their copy of Windows, most ‘normal’ people regarded it simply as a means to an end.

But all that’s changed. Finally, we’re witnessing an uprising of passionate Windows die-hards. The only problem for Microsoft is that those die-hards are fighting for the wrong version: Windows XP.

We’ve covered the anti-Vista movement in great detail over the past year. For those unaware of the backlash against XP’s successor, Microsoft’s newest OS has been derided for its hardware demands, driver issues and sensitive security policies.

Our view is that it’s a decent OS for consumers, provided it’s installed on a PC with sufficient hardware capabilities and you didn’t fall for Microsoft’s promise that Vista would ‘wow’ you with new features. But the Vista hate mob has built up huge support and it’s difficult to see how the OS can recover from its joint billing as the most unpopular version of Windows ever – a title it shares with Windows Me.

The upshot is that Microsoft’s plan to stop selling XP licences from June 30 has proved extremely unpopular. However, while tier-one manufacturers such as Dell and HP may no longer offer XP machines, you’ll still be able to find them if you hunt around. Furthermore, with Windows 7 planned for 2009, some home users are prepared to wait before upgrading their system. Whichever way you look at it, sticking with XP remains a viable option.

But a few nagging questions remain. How long will Microsoft offer free support for the OS? Once that’s run out, what does Microsoft’s ‘extended support’ cover and how much does it cost? How long will Microsoft provide updates for XP and will an XP computer become a malware magnet once those updates come to an end? And what impact will Service Pack 3 have on the lifetime of XP machines?

These are the questions you’ve been asking us over the past year, and in this month’s Windows XP extended feature we provide the answers. As well as drilling down into Microsoft’s support terms and conditions, explaining the differences between mainstream and extended support and how long you can rely on each, we highlight 50 ways you can give your XP system a boost by giving many of the applications that run on it a shot in the arm.

Whether you want to extend the life of XP, boost your browser, overhaul Office or fix Photoshop, this feature will help ensure your current OS – and the applications it runs – continue to fulfil your needs for some time to come.

Snubbing the crowd

On the other hand, perhaps you are looking for a new system. In which case, you’re in luck – we’ve got every angle covered this month. As well as two desktop PC group tests, we've reviewed 25 laptops – ranging from high-end desktop replacements running Vista Ultimate to perhaps the world’s most diminutive Vista-based computer.

OQO once won a place in the Guinness Book of Records for mass producing the world’s smallest fully featured Windows-based PC, and like that model, the OQO e2 we’ve reviewed in this issue is small enough to keep in your pocket. If you wish, you could keep Vista with you all the time. That really would be devotion to an OS.