Who's selling Windows XP in July?

Some companies can still sell Windows XP on new computers in July. But who?

Michael Horowitz

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.


Michael Horowitz
4 min read

By July 1st, Dell, Lenovo, HP and all the other big computer manufacturers will no longer be allowed to sell new computers with Windows XP pre-installed. So says Microsoft. Microsoft also dictated to retailers that, come July, there will be no more shrink-wrapped boxes of Windows XP on their store shelves.

But, many of us prefer XP over the Microsoft-mandated Vista. To borrow from Star Trek, some of us don't want to be assimilated (sorry, couldn't resist). What are we to do this summer?

One option is to buy a computer with a business version of Vista rather than a home/consumer version. Microsoft allows computer manufacturers to include a copy of XP on a CD with computers running the business editions of Vista. Some, such as Fujitsu, Lenovo and HP do this, but check with your preferred vendor. Even those that offer it, may not offer it on every computer.

The included XP CD is an "image" of XP, rather than the Windows disc that comes in shrink-wrapped boxes. This means that installing XP over Vista should be a simple process, something anyone can handle. For example, the necessary drivers are already there.

However, you pay a big premium for this. Not only is there the price premium for a business version of Vista, you may also may have to pay for the XP image CD. Each hardware manufacturer sets their own pricing. When I last checked, Fujitsu was the only company to include Windows XP for free with business editions of Vista.

Another July option is to buy one of the new ultra-cheap, ultra-small laptops. This is a new product category whose flag bearer is the Asus EEE PC. Microsoft, fearful that people may see, try and like Linux, has decided to let these new devices run Windows XP, but only the inferior home edition, not the professional edition. This was, however, a recent decision and the product category is new and constantly changing. Thus, it's too early to know exactly which machines Microsoft will deem XP-worthy.

A third option is to buy a computer with a home version of Vista (they're cheaper), wipe out Vista and install Windows XP the old fashioned way. But, this is not as easy as installing XP from an image. For example, after getting XP installed, you may have to hunt around for drivers. And, there may not be any XP drivers for the hardware in question, in which case the system will not function correctly. Also, this is only allowed with a copy of Windows XP purchased at retail, in a shrink-wrapped box. You can not take the copy of XP that came pre-installed on an old machine and move it to another computer. Even if you are throwing out the old computer, the license for XP dies with the computer.

System Builders

If you have better things to do than deal with this, and just want a computer with Windows XP pre-installed, you will still be able to buy one in July, you just have to buy the computer from what Microsoft calls a System Builder.

Microsoft defines a system builder as "... anyone who assembles, reassembles or installs software on a new or used computer system." A company spokesperson provided a more useful definition: "System Builders (AKA "White Box manufacturers") ... buy software from distributors rather than directly from Microsoft and offer products without a brand name. These are the small companies or mom and pop shops that customize PCs for customers."

In contrast, large computer manufacturers are referred to as Original Equipment Manufacturers or OEMs. A spokesperson provided this definition of the term: "An OEM (HP, Dell, Sony, Acer, Asus, etc.) uses product components (Operating systems, computer chips, other software) from one or more other companies to build a product that it sells under its own company name and brand. OEMs buy software directly from Microsoft, pre-install software on the machines they sell, and the end user licenses the software from the OEM." It is OEMs then, that are restricted from selling Windows XP, come July.

So, specifically who are these system builders that will still be able to sell Windows XP pre-installed on new computers come July?

If you know of, or work for, a company that Microsoft classifies as a "system builder", then please email me at stillsellingxp at michaelhorowitz dot com.

Us Windows XP fans need a cheat sheet.

Update. April 23, 2008: Updated the definition of "System Builder" and added the definition of "OEM".

Update. April 24, 2008: There is much more to be said on this subject. For one, there is the issue of buying OEM copies of Windows XP CDs, which have very different rules associated with them than the retail copies of Windows XP CDs. Then, just yesterday, this story noted that Dell will sell new computers with Windows XP pre-installed come July. You have to buy and pay for a business edition of Vista first, Dell is offering to do the installation of the XP image CD mentioned above for you. Much more to come...

Update. April 25, 2008: My next posting Dell: You want XP, we got it, even after the deadline describes a new Dell policy whereby they will pre-install XP Professional, even after the June 30th deadline.

Note: According to David Strom, Buying XP laptops shouldn't be this tough. He found that the major PC vendors currently make it hard to find XP based machines on their websites, but retailers do a much better job. The two best vendors of XP-based machines are Lenovo and HP, the two worst are Sony and Gateway, according to David.

See a summary of all my Defensive Computing postings.