Windows XP will be around a lot longer than you think

The echo chamber is spreading the alarmist news that Microsoft is cutting off access to Windows XP in 2008. Too bad the story's not true. By my calculations, anyone who wants Windows XP will still be able to get it even in 2011. Here's why.

Over at CNET News, the bold headline reads: No more Windows XP as of 2008. And the opening line continues the theme: “Starting next year you won't be able to buy a new PC loaded with Windows XP…” A PC World story echoed that report, noting Microsoft’s plans to “discontinue shipments of Windows XP to OEMs on January 31, 2008.” The PC World reporter went out to the web to find anonymous comments on message boards (apparently this is now a staple of online journalism) and found this doozy: “[T]ime for enterprises to stock up on shrink-wrapped copies of XP Pro."

Too bad the facts don’t support those alarmist conclusions. It’s true that as of January 31, 2008, Microsoft will no longer distribute Windows XP licenses to its largest customers, the so-called royalty OEMs like Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, and Lenovo. It’s also true that Microsoft will stop stocking retail copies of Windows XP on that date. But Microsoft will continue selling OEM copies of Windows XP via its System Builder channel through January 31, 2009. two years after the retail release of Windows Vista. Your friendly local white-box builder will be happy to sell you a PC with Windows XP two years from now or later, using a legal copy of Windows XP from his stock. And there are no restrictions or licensing requirements to prevent you from purchasing a system builder copy of XP and building or refurbishing your own PC.

Meanwhile, retail copies of Windows XP that are already in the channel will continue to be available, just as copies of Windows 2000 are today. Microsoft officially stopped selling retail copies of Windows 2000 on March 31, 2004, and system builder copies stopped shipping on March 31, 2005, more than two years ago. But it took me all of 30 seconds to find a half-dozen legitimate resellers who still have shrink-wrapped Windows 2000 boxes on their shelves that they will happily sell me. Assuming the same trends hold true, you should be able to find shrink-wrapped copies of Windows XP in 2011.

And what if you’re not ready to run your business on Windows Vista in 2008 or 2009? You don’t need to run out and stock up on XP licenses. When you purchase OEM , retail, or volume license copies of Windows Vista Business or Ultimate, you get downgrade rights, which allow you to use that same license to install Windows XP Professional. [Update: Corrected to remove “retail” from the previous sentence. Downgrade rights apply to OEM and volume license copies of Vista Business and Ultimate only.]

So, Windows XP to disappear in 2008? Uh, no.