Speaking to a group of reporters at an event in Belgium, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly said that the company could extend the shelf life for XP "if customer feedback varies," according to Reuters.
Microsoft has previously said that it would stop making Windows XP available to large PC vendors on June 30, to independent system builders in 2009, and to manufacturers of low-cost computers incapable of running Windows Vista in 2010.
But Microsoft may be hedging on those dates given the lukewarm response to Vista by consumers, IT buyers, and PC makers.
"XP will hit an end-life. We have announced one. If customer feedback varies we can always wake up smarter but right now we have a plan for end-of-life for new XP shipments," Ballmer said, according to Reuters.
It was not immediately clear whether Ballmer was launching a trial balloon or simply making the sort of off-the-cuff remark that sends tech bloggers scurrying to their keyboards. Earlier this month, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said that the company might make Windows 7, the successor to Vista, available as soon as 2009.
In that case, Microsoft public relations officials were quick to issue a clarification that stated Windows 7 would not be generally available until 2010. Microsoft officials were not immediately available for elaboration on Ballmer's remarks Thursday.
What is certain is that the backlash against Vista has been such that some PC makers are apparently ready to defy Microsoft's June 30 stop-ship date for Windows XP. On Thursday, InformationWeek reported exclusively that Dell will make XP available on business computers until 2010.
Buyers who want a Dell system with XP pre-installed after June 30 will technically be purchasing a system with a license for Vista. However, Dell will also include a preinstalled copy of XP on systems marketed as Windows Vista "Bonus" edition.
Implicit in Dell's move is a belief that a considerable portion of its business customers are not willing to upgrade to Vista, despite the fact that the OS has now been available for more than a year and has been fully updated with Service Pack 1.
Many business users have complained about Vista's resource requirements, intrusive security features, and lack of compatibility with older systems and applications.