Microsoft stops mainstream support in two months

Microsoft finds itself on the horns of a dilemma these days. On the one hand, the company is getting some much-needed buzz and earlier critical support for the upcoming release of its latest operating system, Windows 7. Preliminary reviews suggest the new OS is faster, less of a memory hog, less fussy about hardware, and generally less annoying. At the same time, the good news about Windows 7 is giving consumers and businesses yet another reason to hold off on the purchase of Windows Vista. Corporate sales are particularly anemic; according to some estimates, Vista is installed on just 10 percent of workplace computers. But there is also concern that many in the general public will hold off purchasing new computers until Windows 7 is released, reportedly later this year (a trend that may be driven as much by the economy as concerns about Vista). Free Upgrade for Consumers? In an effort to spur consumers to purchase computers with Vista installed rather than wait for Windows 7, Microsoft is considering a program that would allow recent purchasers of Vista to upgrade to a comparable version of Windows 7 for a substantial discount. The program, known temporarily as the "Windows 7 Upgrade Program," is specifically aimed at consumers and small businesses (larger organizations will need to use the Microsoft volume licensing program). Among other things, consumers will need to purchase a qualifying computer within the eligibility period, have a valid Certificate of Authority, and choose one of the eligible versions of Vista (essentially, anything except Vista Home Basic). There are few details so far about the program, although it appears it will apply to computers purchased after July 1. The upgrade option is tentatively set to expire on January 31, 2010. Sterner Words for Businesses Microsoft is clearly aware that despite its best efforts, many businesses will still think seriously about waiting for Windows 7 to arrive. In an interview with Computerworld, Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's senior director of Windows product management, warned that businesses will run some risks in taking that approach. "If you're running Windows 2000, you should definitely move to Vista today," Schuster said. She pointed out that Microsoft is planning to cut mainstream support for XP in two months, and argued that businesses will save both time and money by committing to the Vista/Windows 7 upgrade path now rather than later. Schuster also suggested that companies might discover that there is a gap in the support for their applications if vendors discontinue XP versions. Schuster's remarks were echoed in an e-mail Thursday from a Microsoft spokesperson. "We recommend that all customers plan adoption of Windows Vista," he said, "taking advantage of increased security, higher productivity, cost savings, and improved efficiency. In contrast to those migrating from Windows XP, customers on Windows Vista will be better prepared for the transition because compatibility with Windows Vista software, hardware and tools is a goal for Windows 7." Whether either the offer of a discounted upgrade or the warnings of lost time and money are enough to spur new Vista sales remains to be seen. Clearly, however, Microsoft is hoping that the positive reaction to Windows 7 is not the nail in Vista's rapidly-closing coffin.

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