Windows XP lives again

Microsoft's most successful operating system ever, Windows XP, has been given a reprieve just as its ageing neck was heading for the chopping block.

Microsoft officially ends support for XP SP2 today, marking the end of an era for some, as the OS that outshone its younger sibling and its most essential service pack is deprived of the means of support.

But, in a missive extolling the virtues of Windows 7 and introducing its first Service pack, Microsoft also let slip that it will extend the 'downgrade' rights for Windows XP - meaning OEMs can still demand XP if they really want it, but they'll have to pay Windows 7 prices to install it.

Microsoft was vague on the length of XP's reprieve, stating that it would continue to allow downgrade rights until customers "are ready to use Windows 7".

Microsoft originally wanted to limit XP downgrades to six months after Windows 7's release, but had to extend that to 18 months after the launch of Windows 7, or until it released Windows 7 SP1 - whichever came sooner. Windows 7 was launched in October 2009, and the Service Pack can't be far off, having gone to public beta today.

On its Windows Blog, Microsoft trumpets Windows 7 as "the fastest selling operating system in history". It quotes Net Applications' finding that Windows 7 commanded "nearly 14 per cent share of the global OS market" in June 2010. It also claims that Windows 7 has sold 150 million licences.

But it seems many of those licenced PCs are still running Windows XP. If customers are demanding Windows XP and shops can't buy the OS from Microsoft, they'll be forced to the black market. And that's the last thing Microsoft wants.

But the company tries to explain: "We have decided to extend downgrade rights to Windows XP Professional beyond the previously planned end date of Windows 7 SP1.

"As a result, the OEM versions of Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate will continue to include downgrade rights to the similar versions of Windows Vista or Windows XP Professional. Going forward, businesses can continue to purchase new PCs and utilise end user downgrade rights to Windows XP or Windows Vista until they are ready to use Windows 7. Enabling such rights throughout the Windows 7 life-cycle will make it easier for customers as they plan deployments to Windows 7."