Operating Systems

XP to Live On in Cheap PCs

Microsoft has again decided to let Windows XP operating system (OS) live a little longer.

This time, the software maker has given the OS a reprieve in order to sell preloaded versions of Windows XP Home Edition in ultra-low cost PCs.

A relatively new and increasingly popular class of mobile computers, ultra-low-cost PCs (ULCPCs) offer first-time PC buyers and consumers interested in a second or third PC at home an inexpensive, low-power alternative to standard PCs.

Microsoft’s decision was prompted by feedback received from consumers and the company’s manufacturing partners, according to Michael Dix, general manager of Windows Client Product Management.

“One thing we’ve heard loud and clear, from both our customers and our partners, is the desire for Windows on this new class of devices,” he said.

Ultra-Long Life Cycle

Although specifications may differ, ULCPCs generally include a smaller screen size and flash-based storage. They typically include slower, lower-powered processors than other more costly mobile computing solutions.

Originally intended for students and first-time PC buyers in emerging markets and the developing world, these machines have recently gained a larger following among users in more developed countries. High-profile devices falling into the category include Intel’s Classmate, the Eee PC from Asus and the One Laptop Per Child Foundation’s XO.

“There’s a fair amount of buzz around this category and it’s likely to sell a lot. Microsoft wouldn’t want to miss out on that market,” noted Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

The less technologically robust systems simply would not be able to stand up the demands of an operating system on the scale of Windows Vista. Windows Vista is a very large application, and even the more basic versions would not have been appropriate. XP was the best alternative, Kay told TechNewsWorld.

“Windows Mobile could go on a machine like this. Also XP Embedded and maybe even Vista Embedded, although I haven’t heard anybody speak about that. Microsoft does have a number of alternative systems they could offer,” he continued.

“With Intel putting a lot behind [the segment], Microsoft realized that a lot of momentum might gather behind it and didn’t want to miss it. This is their best proposal, and XP is probably the best option,” Kay added.

Looking for a Toehold

Intel is a major force in the ULCPC market. Rather than choose Microsoft outright, however, the hardware maker has also looked at open source software like Linux to run these mobile computers.

“They’re going to put an operating system on these machines. Pretty much you can’t sell the hardware without an operating system. So if Microsoft didn’t offer something, it would probably mean only Linux would be available,” Michael Cherry, lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, told TechNewsWorld.

Even with Linux, Cherry said he is not convinced that users will want to load everything that is included in a Linux distribution onto these computers.

“It’s a pretty logical move. All they’re going to do is extend XP for this market. It doesn’t mean you can buy it on other machines,” he noted.

Windows XP Home will be available to manufacturers for new ULCPC systems until June 30, 2010, or one year following the release of Microsoft’s next version operating system, Windows 7, which at this point is scheduled to ship in 2010.

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