Dell brings back XP on home systems

After adding it back as an option for small businesses, direct seller offers older OS on consumer machines in response to demand.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
Dell is bringing XP back.

Amid significant customer demand, the computer maker said on Thursday that it has returned to offering the older Windows version as an option on some of its consumer PCs.

Like most computer makers, Dell switched nearly entirely to Vista-based systems following Microsoft's mainstream launch of the operating system in January. However, the company said its customers have been asking for XP as part of its IdeaStorm project, which asks customers to help the company come up with product ideas.

"We heard you loud and clear on bringing the Windows XP option back to our Dell consumer PC offerings," Dell said on its Ideas in Action page. Users get to vote on various suggestions, and the notion of bringing back XP got 10,000 "points," making it among the most popular requests but well below top picks such as adding Linux or OpenOffice.org to its PCs.

Windows XP systems became scarce, but not impossible to find, after Vista arrived. For example, Hewlett-Packard said it would continue selling XP on some machines aimed at small and midsize businesses, while CompUSA still stocks a couple of business-oriented XP systems in its retail stores. Lenovo has also continued shipping XP on many of its business systems.

Starting immediately, Dell said, it is adding XP Home and Professional as options on four Inspiron laptop models and two Dimension desktops.

Earlier this month, Dell added XP back as an option for small-business customers, but at the time, it said it would not add it back for home users.

"Dell does not have plans to launch Windows XP for home users as the preference, and demand is for the 'latest and greatest' technology, which includes Windows Vista," Tom West, director of small-business marketing at Dell, said in a blog posting at the time.

Analysts say Dell's move is not a good sign for Windows Vista.

"That there is remaining demand from some segment of (the) consumer market points to the inability of Vista to resonate with consumers," IDC analyst Richard Shim said.

There was an initial bump for Vista sales right after its launch, Shim said, but some of that may have been from consumers who delayed purchasing a PC late last year. Sales in the later part of the first quarter were less strong, he said. The overall response to Vista will become clearer throughout the year, he said.

Current Analysis research director Samir Bhavnani said most of the demand for XP he sees is from small businesses, rather than consumers.

"They know that XP works," Bhavnani said. "It's not that they don't want to upgrade to Vista. They just don't want to upgrade to Vista yet."

In a sense, the issue isn't the relatively small number of PC buyers demanding XP, but it's whether Vista is having any effect on the PC market as a whole.

In announcing PC sales data, Gartner said this week that Vista's launch "had very limited impact on overall worldwide shipment demand on a quarterly basis."

Bhavnani blamed some of the lackluster results on a lack of marketing, noting he sees more ads for Apple than for Vista.

"It's been a very soft launch," Bhavnani said. "I think you will see Vista create additional demand for PCs in the back half of this year."

Microsoft product manager Michael Burk said in a statement: "Dell is responding appropriately to a small minority of customers that had this specific request. But, as they have said before, the vast majority of consumers want the latest and greatest technology, and that includes Windows Vista."

The software maker has said it will stop selling Windows XP to large PC makers by January. Smaller computer sellers, known as system builders, will be able to sell XP machines for an additional year.

In a statement last week, Microsoft said such a move is normal after a new operating system comes out.

"Windows Vista is safer, easier to use, better connected and more entertaining than any operating system we've ever released, and we're encouraged by the positive customer response we've seen to date," the company said. "It's standard practice to allow OEMs, retailers and system builders to continue offering the previous version of Windows for a certain period of time after a new version is released."