Microsoft has confirmed that it will continue to sell Windows XP Home to OEMs beyond the planned cut-off date of June 30, 2008, to accommodate a new class of ultra-low-cost PCs (ULCPCs) such as Asus' Eee PC.
Windows XP Home will be available for OEMs to install on ULCPCs either until June 30, 2010, or one year after the availability of the next client version of Windows, code-named Windows 7 - whichever date comes later.
Though Microsoft has not yet revealed Windows 7's planned release date, it's expected to be available before June 30, 2010, or Microsoft at least will have an idea by then of when it will be released.
"That is not an unreasonable presumption to make," said Kevin Kutz, director of Windows Client for Microsoft. The company has said it will release Windows 7 by the end of 2009 or early 2010, but has been vague about specific details or an exact release date.
Kutz stopped short of saying Microsoft is willing to extend the availability of a seven-year-old OS because it doesn't want to concede the ULCPC market to Linux, which many feel is the reason for the move. Instead, he said its customers and partners who are driving the extension. "The feedback we've gotten from customers and partners is they want Windows on those devices," Kutz said.
At the same time he acknowledged that Microsoft, too, wants to see Windows on ULCPCs, and wants "to provide the best possible Windows experience for the device".
Still, if Microsoft is willing to allow OEMs to put a version of Windows on devices up to nine years past its release date when there will be not just one but two XP successors on the market, it's apparent the company recognises a threat from Linux in that market. Linux is the OS running the current poster child for the low-cost laptop - Asus' £200 Eee PC, which was released in October and runs the Xandros distribution of Linux.
Linux also was supposed to be the OS for a forthcoming line of ULCPCs based on new Intel Atom processors that are due out later this year, laptops Intel is calling Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). In the past, Intel had said the MIDs would run Linux and established an effort, called Moblin.org, to develop a version of the open-source software for the devices.
However, Intel's Gary Willihnganz, director of marketing for its Ultra Mobility Group, said this week that both Windows XP and Vista also will run on the Atom-based MIDs in addition to Linux. He even suggested that the devices will be designed with support for Vista in mind, by saying the new platform will "be enabled" for both XP and Vista.
Since Intel's MIDs are not expected to be available until after XP's current June 30, 2008 deadline, this likely inspired Microsoft to change its XP availability policy. On the ULCPCs that are currently available for the market, Vista is not an option because of its memory and hard-drive requirements. Kutz said yesterday that Microsoft has no plans to change Vista to make it more suitable for ULCPCs, and hinted that forthcoming ULCPCs will evolve to the point that they can run Vista.
"It depends on what an ULCPC becomes over time," he said. "Right now we're enabling as much flexibility and choice as possible."