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Leaked HP memo details XP reprieve until 2010, report says

Microsoft Corp. acknowledged today that it has “broadened the options” for PC makers to continue offering the eight-year-old Windows XP as a downgrade from Vista, and potentially from the upcoming Windows 7.

However, the company would not confirm specific reports that Hewlett-Packard Co. has been given the green light to sell new PCs with Windows XP Professional preinstalled through the end of April 2010.

“Based on feedback, Microsoft is further broadening the options provided to Direct OEMs to help customers facilitate End User downgrade rights included in the product license terms of a new system with either Windows Vista Business or Windows Vista Ultimate,” said a Microsoft spokeswoman in an e-mail. “This option is designed to help Direct OEMs further support customers, primarily small business customers, looking for Windows XP Professional due to application compatibility concerns.”

On Saturday, AppleInsider reported that Microsoft had given HP the OK to offer Windows XP as a downgrade through April 30, 2010.

“Downgrade” describes the Windows licensing rights that allow users — and, in their stead, computer makers — to install Windows XP Professional, while also providing media for Vista for a possible upgrade later. In effect, the license for the newer Windows — Vista — is transferred to the older edition, XP.

Microsoft allows owners of only Vista Business and Vista Ultimate — the two highest-priced editions — to downgrade to XP.

Windows XP went into semi-retirement in June 2008, when Microsoft stopped selling it at retail and withdrew Windows XP Home from use on all but netbooks, though it allowed XP Professional to be installed as a Vista downgrade. Since then, Microsoft has extended the final date it will sell XP Professional install media to large computer makers and smaller systems builders to July 31, 2009, and May 30, 2009, respectively.

Today, Microsoft denied that it had extended the life span of Windows XP, and intimated that those rights were built into the newer operating system — in this case, Vista — and did not expire at some arbitrary date. “End User downgrade rights are a right in the end user license for Windows Vista Business and Ultimate products, and therefore remain in effect for the life of the product, so this change does not represent an extension,” the Microsoft spokeswoman said.

However, the company did not answer questions about whether it was extending the availability of XP media, a crucial factor for OEMs, which must have those installation or restore discs to include with the downgraded PC. When Microsoft said last October that it had extended media availability another six months, through July 2009, a spokeswoman had stressed the importance of media availability in downgrade scenarios. “The [downgrade] rights don't go away. It's all about having the media on hand,” she said then.

The internal HP memo cited by AppleInsider also claimed that Microsoft would let computer makers downgrade new PCs from the next operating system, Windows 7.

“Microsoft will allow PC OEMs to structure similar downgrade OS SKUs for Win 7 Professional once available,” the memorandum read, according to AppleInsider. You can anticipate that business desktops, notebooks and workstations will take advantage of this with the release of Win 7 in the October timeframe to allow our customers maximum headroom as they transition away from XP Pro OS.”

According to the HP communique, Microsoft will also discontinue the downgrade from Windows 7 Professional to XP Professional on April 30, 2010.

In a reply to follow-up questions, the Microsoft spokesman denied that any termination date had been set for Windows 7 downgrades, but she implicitly acknowledged that they would be available for at least a time. “No dates have been announced for the end of Windows 7 downgrade right facilitation to Windows XP,” she said.

If the HP memo is accurate, Windows XP will be available for more than a year after Microsoft shifts the aging operating system out of what it calls mainstream support and into the more limited extended-support phase. Windows XP will drop out of mainstream support April 14.

HP did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the XP extension.

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