Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Buying XP shouldn't be this tough

Over the weekend, I helped a friend of mine buy a new laptop. What was
amazing was we actually went into a retail store, found the model she
was most comfortable with and was in stock. We actually left the store
with it under our possession.

What wasn't amazing was how hard it was to purchase it, and how much
Internet research I needed to do to enable this fabulous shopping

You see, my friend wanted to stick with Windows XP. And the moral of
my story, which I will provide up front, is that if you want XP on
your future laptops, you better buy it now because it is only going to
get more difficult.

According to Microsoft's own Web site, XP Pro will no longer be
available in the retail channel after July 1. Although OEMs and system
builders will have until Feb 1, 2009.

There is an exception -- for the immediate future the XP Home version
will be available for ultra-small PCs, but these are probably not the
PCs that you want to outfit your corporate fleet with.

Before heading to the Office Depot that is literally a block from my
house, I spent some time looking over the major PC vendors' Web sites
and seeing what they had. Here is where the story turns ugly. My
friend wanted to spend less than $1,000, have a 15.4-inch screen, and
a keyboard that was solid enough for a demanding typist. That seemed
easy to satisfy, until I started looking around.

None of the major PC vendors make it easy for you to buy a
pre-configured XP laptop. They all "recommend Windows Vista" and hide
their XP models several menu layers down or just don't tell you where
to find them. The two best vendors for XP are Lenovo and HP – possibly
because they have standardized on XP for their own employees, possibly
because they understand that this market segment isn't going away as
fast as Microsoft would like. HP sells actually two different versions
of XP Pro – one is called a "business downgrade" that sounds ominous,
the other is just the standard XP Pro. They cost the same, and they
have fairly wide support for XP Pro across their laptop line. Lenovo
has equally wide support. Both sites make it easy to figure out which
laptops can be configured with XP Pro pre-installed, even if you can't
sort by operating system directly.

The two worst vendors are Sony and Gateway. I couldn't find any XP
models on either site, and Sony makes it almost impossible to
determine what operating system is running on its machine until you
get into the details on each individual model. Toshiba's Web site
isn't much better.

I had better results going to Office Depot's Web site, which was
fortunate because as I said the store is very close by. There you can
quickly search on XP Pro and find a dozen models from several
different vendors, including Sony and Toshiba, which come with this
operating system. It is ironic and cruel that you have to go to a
retail vendor's site to find the details about a product that you
can't get on the actual vendor's site. This should be a lesson for
those of you designing Web sites, but I will leave that for another
column and another day.

In fact, the major PC retailers have done a much better job at finding
XP from their home pages – often a few mouse clicks is all that it
takes to narrow the field. and both will show you
which models come with XP: in CDW's case, they had nine results but
only two Toshibas were in stock.

So off we went to Office Depot. Amazingly, the Lenovo model they had
on display was the sole laptop running XP, and it was one that my
friend liked. We had to deal with a salesperson, who made several
mistakes and tried to get us to purchase the extended warranty, but we
left the store with product in hand.

Microsoft is making a mistake discontinuing XP to retail and corporate
customers. There are many people that aren't enamored with Vista, and
I have heard from many corporate IT managers that are going slowly on
its adoption. Buying a laptop is more of an issue, because many
vendors are making laptops that have network cards and other gear that
doesn't have XP drivers. If you have plans for major XP laptop
purchases this year, spend the money now while you still have a

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About Me

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David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.