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Windows XP on netbooks to lose life support?

Post-Christmas reality check

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You might not be able to buy a brand-new netbook running Windows XP much past the New Year, even though Microsoft has committed to offering that operating system for another year.

That's because Microsoft hopes - and expects - that shoppers will buy Windows 7 Home Premium instead.

Shoppers' buying choices will naturally be assisted by the fact Microsoft won't be doing much to advertise the aging Windows XP - or even the new Windows 7 Starter Edition that OEMs can install on new PCs but that consumers could also be steered towards.

The ad drive will instead be focused on Windows 7 Home Premium, one of five Windows 7 SKUs potentially available to consumers. Microsoft has apparently given up on the idea of pushing people towards the more expensive Ultimate SKU - as it tried before with Windows Vista.

The head of Microsoft's netbooks business Don Paterson told The Reg in an interview: "We will continue to make Windows XP available for those devices [netbooks], but it doesn't make sense to put marketing effort behind those devices.

"As much as we make Windows XP available for a year, we won't see it last in the market that long. We will get through the holidays. My gut [feeling] is we will walk away from the holidays and see that it's not worth keeping it in market."

Paterson, director of netbook PCs in Microsoft's Windows client group, said consumers who "do their homework and understand the value proposition [of Windows 7 Home Premium] will migrate". Those who stick with Windows XP will want "absolutely the lowest cost device" or just hate change, he reckons. Patterson hopes consumers will be wowed by the Windows 7 Media Center.

There are no plans to raise the profile of Windows 7 Starter Edition for consumers, either. "The main effort will be Home Premium," Paterson said.

Paterson takes what has emerged as the standard industry view of netbook-buying habits, that those buying netbooks are mostly getting them as a second machine.

Where he departs, though, is on how people are using them - and who's using them. Regarding the latter, he says it's not students but 40-somethings who are buying netbooks as second machines. And when it comes to how these people are using netbooks, that's where Paterson believes Windows 7 Home Premium will hold up against the oft-talked about potential challenge offered by Linux.

"There's this notion that says everybody is web surfing [on netbooks]. All the data I looked at says that is not true," Paterson said. People are listening to music or using Microsoft's Office in addition to surfing. The Reg understands that netbooks have actually helped sales of Office, as customers want to use things like Word, Excel, or Outlook on those machines.

"A fair amount of people are using Office applications on those machines," Paterson said. "We do our best to facilitate that by getting it preinstalled." He wouldn't give numbers on how netbooks have helped sales of Office.

It's application compatibly and familiarly with Office or music applications, and hardware compatibility that Paterson believes will help Windows 7 Home Premium hold its own against Linux - a classic Microsoft argument and one that's partly prevailed on desktops and laptops.

Microsoft's netbook chief is not complacent, though, and believes Linux could catch up and challenge Windows if the distros tackle familiarity and hardware compatibility in particular. He said Microsoft takes Android and Chrome OS seriously.

"Can they catch up? Sure," Paterson said. "There's no technical reason to prevent [Linux variants] getting there. They've struggled until now and there are some inherent problems with the community organization, but with the right persons driving that through, we don't rule it out down the road." ®

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