Windows XP, the zombie operating system that refuses to die, may be about to finally receive a killing blow to the head by the company that spawned it eleven years ago. So what will put XP out of its undead misery? Buyers of PCs running Windows 8 Pro will have the ability to downgrade to Windows 7 and Vista, but not all the way to Windows XP.
Downgrades Are Not New
This is not the first time that Microsoft has offered Pro users the capability to downgrade a new version of Windows - Windows 7 Pro users could also downshift to Windows Vista or XP if they wanted to. The downgrade feature is very narrowly available, too. Only the versions of Windows 8 Pro that come with new PCs allow users to choose to drop down to Windows 7 Pro or Vista Business. If you buy a retail version of the same software, you get Windows 8 Pro and nothing but.
Making this downgrade available helps new hardware buyers keep their corporate environments homogeneous whenever Microsoft pushes out a major new release of its operating system. It also keep PC sales chugging along, since business owners are most likely to buy the Pro flavor of Windows, but if all buyers of new PCs had to get Windows 8 - or shell out for a separate version of an older OS after Windows 8's release on October 26 - corporate buyers might think twice about whether they really wanted to add new hardware.
What Will XP Users Do?
The effect of this new downgrade program, however, will be most felt by the many users still committed to using Windows XP and are not ready for any newer version of Windows.
According to an August 2012 survey from NetMarketShare, Windows 7 deployments have finally surpassed those of the 11-year-old Windows XP operating system. But just barely: 42.76% of desktop machines run Windows 7, just a tiny bit more than Windows XP machines, now reported to have 42.52% of the total marketshare. (Windows Vista use is still falling, down to 6.15% in August 2012).
Office 2013 Rejects Windows XP
Another club to the head to the XP zombie: the upcoming Office 2013 will not be compatible with Windows XP or Vista, either. In this context, even the option to downgrade to Vista Business is almost superfluous: if the latest Microsoft applications won't be supported on Vista, why downgrade that far back? Heck, it's hard to fathom why anyone would want to downgrade to Vista instead of WIndows 7.
But the real death-blow for XP remains the issue of what OS you can buy on new PCs. Retail versions and most pre-installed versions of Microsoft operating system do not have downgrade rights, only licenses purchased through the company's Volume License program. In August 2010, Microsoft expanded its Volume Licensing program to include N-2 downgrade rights, where N is the most recent version of a given software, N-1 is the previous version, and N-2 is the one before that.
XP Will Soon Be N-3
At the time, that meant that Windows XP would be included within the Volume License downgrade path. But when Windows 8 comes out, Windows XP will become N-3, and therefore no longer available through Volume Licensing.
How Windows XP users will react to these clear attempts to finish off their operating system is a huge question that Microsoft needs to answer soon. When it's time for them to upgrade their hardware, will they still try to hang on to their beloved dinosaur, or will they finally bite the bullet and upgrade to Windows 8? Or even Windows 7?
The future of second-largest OS user base in the marketplace is a disruptive wildcard.. Microsoft is counting on a lot of XP users to upgrade to at least Windows 7. Will it get them, will they go to a competitor, or will the XP zombie shamble on into an increasingly anachronistic future?
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