Loopholes to get Windows XP after the last call

It’s last call for consumers to buy PCs pre-loaded with Windows XP.Most major PC makers and retailers will stop taking orders for consumer-oriented desktops and laptops with the older operating system by the middle of June. The simplest option for getting a new PC — heading to a big-box retailer — will yield the spottiest XP options.

You already know the context. Microsoft is phasing out Windows XP in favor of Vista, and the OEMs responsible for the vast majority of PC sales — such as Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, and Lenovo — are falling into line.

Microsoft’s basic policy sounds simple: “Windows XP will no longer be available for purchase from Microsoft for general retail and OEM partners as of June 30, 2008.”

Consumer options ending in just days

But most OEMs aren’t waiting that long to stop taking orders for XP-based PCs.

If you really want to buy a consumer system like Dell’s Inspiron running XP, you need to hurry up. Dell will stop taking orders for those systems on June 18. Hewlett-Packard’s cutoff date is June 10; Lenovo’s is June 15.

Gateway (now owned by Acer) says it will sell XP systems until the end of the month, but a call to the company’s sales line found there are no longer any XP machines in stock and that none (as far as the sales rep knew) would be available.

On the retail front, consumers can buy XP systems at Best Buy until inventory is exhausted. It’s not clear how long that will be, but a check of the company’s Web site turned up very few models. A spokeswoman for Circuit City said her company will have some XP models available on its Web site at the end of the month, but it wasn’t clear to her when the systems would go off sale.

A few loopholes you can try

Although XP-loaded consumer systems are soon to be gone, there is a basketful of loopholes that some people will be able to exploit to get XP on new systems.

Most involve the sale of “downgrade” licenses for businesses. A business is defined as anyone who buys a PC model designated as a business model by the manufacturer; thus, individuals can buy these “business” PCs.

Microsoft’s “downgrade” policy is that anyone who buys Vista Ultimate or Vista Business can install XP over Vista using the Vista license. (All business PCs come with one of those two versions of Vista. Consumer PCs often come with other versions of Vista for which there is no “downgrade” option.) But you have to supply your own XP disc and call Microsoft to transfer the license.
Some PC makers are taking care of that hassle for you. They’ll “downgrade” their business PCs to XP Professional, and ship you the discs to install Vista later if you choose. (Microsoft requires that they ship you those discs, as technically you bought a Vista PC, so you can “upgrade” to Vista later under the same license.)

Dell, HP, and Lenovo will all offer the “downgrade” option on select business (and in Dell’s case, some high-end gaming-oriented systems) at an additional cost. How long they’ll make this option available is unclear, though. Dell is committing only until February 2009 to have the “downgrade” option available on its Vostro and select XPS lines of PCs, for example.

The “downgrade” option will not be available from either Best Buy or Circuit City.

Businesses that have a Vista site license can also “downgrade” their systems to XP, such as InfoWorld has previously outlined.

System builders — those who make custom PCs, such as at local computer repair shops — can sell XP until February 2009. And XP will be available on ultra-low-cost laptops and desktops until 2010.

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