Buying Microsoft Windows XP Has Never Been So Hard

By David Strom  |  Posted 2008-04-22

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 it was in stock. We actually left the store with it.

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

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 be more difficult to find.

According to Microsoft’s 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 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 and 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,” which 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 preinstalled, even if you can’t sort directly by operating system.

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, that come with this operating system. It is ironic 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 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 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. Many people 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 choice.