Dell: We'll install XP for you, even after the deadline

PC maker plans to preinstall the pre-Vista Windows operating system on some Latitude, OptiPlex, and Precision systems for free, regardless of Microsoft's June 30 deadline.

It seems that Michael Dell is breathing new life into his company.

A year ago, Dell was brave enough to backtrack on its Vista-only policy for consumer machines (Dell brings back XP on home systems). It also showed some independence from Microsoft by offering Linux to consumers. And again, Dell is innovating.

Fact 1: As of June 30, large computer manufacturers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard can no longer offer Windows XP preinstalled on new computers, though Microsoft has said it would consider re-evaluating the deadline if there's enough customer demand.

Fact 2: Anyone who buys a copy of either the Business or Ultimate versions of Vista is entitled to also get Windows XP Professional.* Each computer manufacturer decides whether, or how, to implement this.

Until now, consumers who exercised their right to get XP Professional when they purchased Vista got a computer with Vista preinstalled and an XP image CD in the box (an image CD is very different from a retail Windows CD).

Dell's innovation? It will do the XP image installation for you. It may not sound like much, but the net result is that the computer leaves the factory with Windows XP Professional on it, rather than Vista.

Deadline? We don't need no stinkin' deadline.

Microsoft can't be happy about this, though a cynic would note that even though Dell computers leave the factory with XP on them, Microsoft can tally it as a sale for Vista.

It's an interesting power play between the two companies. Will other companies follow Dell or toe the Microsoft line?

According to Randy Copeland, president and CEO of Velocity Micro, after the June 30 deadline, all of its computers will ship with Vista preinstalled. The company will offer the XP Professional "downgrade" in the traditional way, by including an XP image CD in the box. Interestingly, each XP image CD will be mated to one, and only one, computer.

Dell has a Web page devoted to its new policy, Windows XP Availability, which notes that the last day to buy a computer with Windows XP preinstalled under the current rules is June 18. Afterward:

When selecting your operating system, you will see an option called "Genuine Windows® Vista Business BONUS" and "Genuine Windows Vista Ultimate BONUS." With these options, you may...have Dell factory install Windows XP Professional. You will also receive a backup media disc for Windows XP Professional, as well as the media for Windows Vista.

In other words, Dell provides optical discs for both XP and Vista, so you can change over at any time. This is not like Apple's Boot Camp, however; the computer can have only one operating installed on the hard disk at a time. But Dell provides technical support for both XP and Vista. Whether its tech support is worthwhile is another matter.

According to Infoworld, Dell will offer this new "buy Vista, get XP Pro preinstalled" service on some Latitude, OptiPlex, and Precision systems for free. It will also offer it on some Vostro and XPS systems for a small fee.

For more about getting Windows XP after the June 30 deadline, see my previous posting, Who's selling Windows XP in July?

*NOTE: Microsoft allows a "downgrade" only to XP Professional, not to the Home or Media Center editions. According to InfoWorld, large organizations with site licenses can "downgrade" from any version of Vista.

See a summary of all my Defensive Computing postings.

About the author

    Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

    He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.

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