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1/26/2007
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Why Microsoft's Keeping XP Home Alive Until 2014

The announcement matches a policy already in place for the business-oriented Windows XP Professional.

Microsoft extended support for Windows XP Home and Windows XP Media Center by five years this week, in part because it recognized that consumers rarely update their PCs to a new operating system, a company executive said Friday.

On Wednesday, Microsoft announced it would support Windows XP Home and Media Center until April 2014 by adding a five-year "Extended Support" period. The announcement matches a policy already in place for the business-oriented Windows XP Professional.

"Consumers are keeping their computers for longer periods of time," said Ines Vargas, Microsoft's director of support policy. "The average family is buying a new operating system with a new computer, their second or third, then passing the older machine to another in the family." This jibes with research that shows families retain older operating systems on older PCs, and with analysts' insights into the same behavior at the corporate level.

"Windows XP still continues to have a larger-than-expected installed base," said Vargas in explaining the decision to keep the Home edition on life support.

Revenue was another reason. According to Vargas, per-incident paid support for consumers would have disappeared if Windows XP Home dropped off the map when it left what Microsoft calls Mainstream Support in mid-April 2009. "We would have had to turn them away, but now we will give the consumer paid support options," Vargas said.

The choice was made easier by feedback from users and analysts, as well as a determination that producing security updates for XP Home for another five years would be a "minimal effort," Vargas said. "The fact that we were planning to produce security fixes for Windows XP Professional [led us to decide] why not just port them to Windows XP Home?"

And although Windows XP will in the end be supported for more than a dozen years -- a record for Microsoft -- Vargas denied that it was "more equal" than other versions of the operating system. "We always recognize the importance of all of our OSes," she said. Windows 98, however, was supported for only eight years, from 1998 to 2006.

Instead, Vargas attributed Windows XP's long lifespan to luck: It was in the right place at the right time as Microsoft first instituted a support life cycle in 2002, and then modified it in 2004.

The addition of Extended Support to Windows XP Home and Windows XP Media Center runs counter to the developer's stated practice of ending support for consumer products after the five years in Mainstream. That holds true for the soon-to-be-released Windows Vista, as well.

Vista Home Basic and Home Premium, for instance, are currently listed on Microsoft's Web site as supported until April 2012, five years after their release. Vista Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate, however -- all editions with business-oriented components -- are to live until 2017, a full 10 years after their debut.

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