Will XP Support Deadline Spur Vista Upgrades?

April 14 is when Microsoft will stop offering what it calls mainstream support for XP, which includes free security updates and bug fixes for those running retail versions of the eight-year-old operating system. After that date, XP users will have to pay for support on a per-incident basis for bug fixes, although Microsoft will still deliver XP security updates for free until 2014.

Microsoft, for its part, says it's well aware that XP is still popular.

"Hundreds of millions of Windows XP users are fans of the operating system, and many depend on Windows XP to run legacy applications and hardware not yet compatible with Windows Vista. Even though we're retiring Windows XP, we won't leave you hanging," the company says in a Web site called "Windows XP: The Facts About The Future."

While Microsoft's volume licensing customers won't have to pay extra for support, the deadline will eventually affect a significant number of companies that use XP. Solution providers say it's unclear at this point whether all third party hardware and software vendors will continue to develop products that work with the large base of XP users.

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But despite the risks associated with using a non-supported OS, many VARs are telling customers that staying with XP is preferable to moving to Vista, especially given the strong early returns on the Windows 7 beta, and the high likelihood that Microsoft will release Windows 7 sometime this year.

"It really comes down to what meets the client's needs now, and in the immediate future," says Bob Nitrio, president of system builder Ranvest Associates, an Orangevale, Calif.-based solution provider. "Windows 7 gives them a compelling reason to upgrade when the time is right, and I think the support Microsoft is providing with XP will be enough to get them to that point."

The fact that Microsoft plans to charge for XP support presents an opportunity for the channel, because XP users, by and large, would much rather pay VARs to handle this task, according to Tyler Dikman, president and CEO of solution provider Cooltronics, a Tampa, Fla.-based solution provider. VARs can also take advantage of the handful of free support calls that Microsoft gives to partners, he added.

However, Dikman says the majority of issues that XP users encounter can be resolved without having to resort to paid support, because most XP bugs have already been experienced by other users. Likewise, most of Vista's issues post-Service Pack 1 have been worked out, Dikman says.