Myth: Microsoft plans to drop support for Windows XP shortly after the release of Windows Vista, forcing Windows users to upgrade or else.
Reality: Under Microsoft's published guidelines, consumers will have more than four years to safely say no to Windows Vista, and business users will be able to hold out until at least 2014.
In the Talkback section of many Vista posts, I read lots of speculation from conspiracy theorists who are convinced that Microsoft is plotting to push unwilling Windows users into Vista upgrades. That common comment inspired today's edition.
The key dates are all available via the Microsoft Support Lifecycle, which lays out Microsoft's support commitments for every product it sells. Unlimited support isn't an option, but neither is arbitrarily ending support.
Mainstream support will end two years after the next version of this product is released.
You want the exact date? Earlier this year, Microsoft adjusted its policy so that product support ends on the second Tuesday after the end of the quarter in which the calendar-based expiration date falls. (Why the second Tuesday? Because that's the day on which updates are released.) So, assuming Microsoft sticks to its announced January 2007 release date for the consumer version of Windows Vista (or even if they delay the official release until February or March 2007), that means mainstream support for all versions of Windows XP will continue at least until April 14, 2009.
But that's not the end of the road for XP. Because Windows XP Professional falls into the "business and developer software" category, it qualifies for another five years of extended support, during which Microsoft commits to releasing security updates and continuing to offer paid support. That means anyone using Windows XP Professional (including the x64 and Tablet PC editions) will be able to count on receiving security updates through April, 2014. Under the published security update policy, those security updates will continue to be delivered through Windows Update for at least two years after the beginning of the extended support phase, or until at least April, 2011.
And what about the consumer versions of Windows XP - Home and Media Center? The good news is that those versions are built on the same code base as the business versions of XP, so any security update developed for one will almost certainly apply to another. In fact, a quick visit to the Microsoft Security Bulletin Search page confirms that service packs and updates are not issued separately for Home and Professional editions of Windows XP. So the bottom line is consumers can count on security updates arriving until April 2011. And of course there's always the possibility that Microsoft could extend support for XP as they did for Windows 98.
At any rate, you've got at least four years during which you can continue using a supported copy of Windows XP and thumb your nose at the Vista upgrade.
Update 11-Sep: In the Talkback section, Robert Crocker asks: "How long [will] XP remain available for retail purchase? ... If you can't buy XP off the shelf then it has effectively been dumped for new computers." According to Microsoft's Windows Desktop License Availability policy, new licenses will be available in all channels, including retail, for 12 months after Windows Vista is generally available. OEM System Builder licenses will be available for 24 months after Vista is released. Of course, that's the schedule that Microsoft has committed to follow for retail and OEM partners. There's no requirement for retailers to pull product from the shelves when those dates arrive, so it should still be possible to find legal copies of Windows XP for some time after the official deadline has passed.