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Windows XP SP3 upgrade, Ballmer comments could extend XP's shelf life

CEO Steve Ballmer says Microsoft could extend XP's availability if customer demand is there; partner reaction to XP SP3 is mixed.

The Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) upgrade hit Monday, and now comes word that XP may remain available for longer than expected.

Microsoft has planned to discontinue XP on June 30, but CEO Steve Ballmer said today at a news conference in Belgium that the company could extend that deadline.

"XP will hit an end-of-life," he said, according to Reuters. "We have announced one. If customer feedback varies, we can always wake up smarter, but right now we have a plan for end-of-life for new XP shipments."

His comments came just three days after Microsoft released the Windows XP SP3 upgrade to manufacturing, a move that has drawn mixed reactions from the channel. Ron Herardian, CEO of Microsoft partner Global System Services in Mountain View, Calif., said the upgrade will help Microsoft retain customers who want no part of XP's successor, Windows Vista.

"There continues to be major problems with Vista, and a lot of customers are looking for alternatives to Vista," Herardian said. "If it's not XP SP3, their next operating system is going to be Linux or Macintosh. … Vista is not a viable enterprise solution."

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Vista launched in early 2007, but Microsoft partners have reported slow sales -- primarily because of hardware and software compatibility problems. Some had hoped that the release of Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Windows Server 2008 would help spur Vista migrations, but that has not been the case as yet.

Still, Forrester Research recommends that clients start Vista migrations. About half of all client inquiries are about Vista, said analyst Benjamin Gray, who authored the recent report "Building the Business Case for Windows Vista."

"Right now they're facing a pretty big decision," he said. "There's a lot of uncertainty about how much longer XP will be available for. We can't assume that Microsoft is going to extend this again, and we expect they will not."

The Windows XP SP3 upgrade makes "perfect sense" for customers who are hesitant about migrating to Vista, Herardian said.

"The main thing is just to keep XP current as an OS," he said. "Service Pack 3 indicates that XP will continue to be a viable OS. It's not so much about features. It's about extending support for XP."

But Scott Millwood, CEO of Customer Effective, based in Greenville, S.C., said there's not a "super mad rush" among customers to get the Windows XP SP3 upgrade.

"We see more discussion about XP vs. Vista than about the XP service packs," he said. "It's typically not a vital part of the conversation. It's just, 'It's another service pack. We'll update as we need to.'"

And Jay Tipton, vice president of business solutions for Microsoft partner Technology Specialists in Fort Wayne, Ind., said he won't install the Windows XP SP3 upgrade for customers because of some problems others have encountered. The service pack changes some firewall settings and DLL files that require manual fixes on each machine, Tipton said.

"I'm not going to release it until I know some of those issues have been resolved," he added.

Tipton said he can count on one hand the number of customers who have migrated to Vista so far. And at Customer Effective, only about 10% of customers have done so, Millwood said. His sales staff does not push Vista migrations but does use new applications to try to drive operating system upgrades. For example, a rep will demonstrate Dynamics CRM 4.0 integrated with Microsoft Office 2007, then show the CRM data widgets that only appear on desktops running Vista.

"We play that up," Millwood said. "It builds confidence. They see us using it. They see some advanced features that they don't have today in XP, and it creates a positive impression."

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