Vista Resistance: Why XP Is Still So Strong

Windows Vista is facing stiff competition from an unlikely source: Windows XP.

The six-year-old operating system is showing surprising strength more than half a year after the full launch of its successor. In April, Dell acknowledged continued XP demand and resumed offering XP as an option on new systems. In July, Microsoft chief financial officer Chris Liddell ratcheted up the percentage of OS sales the company expects XP to account for in fiscal year 2008 from 15 percent to 22 percent. Finally, in August, Microsoft announced an XP Service Pack 2c release that does nothing more than add new Windows XP product keys so the company can keep selling the OS to businesses through January 31, 2009.

In addition, customers who purchase a Vista machine from Dell, HP, or Lenovo (among other vendors) can use a vendor-supplied XP Pro recovery disc to replace the Vista operating system on their system with XP Pro.

Software developer Mark Sanford doesn't see a 'must-have kind of feature' in Windows Vista.
Mark Sanford
Photograph: Robert Cardin, Chris Manners
The wait-and-see approach of Mark Sanford, a 40-year-old software developer in San Francisco, seems typical of many users. Sanford's PC--with a 3-GHz CPU, 2GB of memory, and a 256MB video card--could handle Vista, but he says he has no plans to upgrade from XP. Sanford says he's gotten to know XP's idiosyncrasies, and has his network and software running smoothly on the aging OS. "XP is plenty good enough," he says. So nothing is pushing him away from XP, and likewise nothing is pulling him strongly to Vista.

"The Aero interface is beautiful," he says, but "When I look at Vista, there's really nothing there that's a must-have kind of feature."

Behind the Pace

Certainly sales of Vista aren't blowing away XP in stores. Chris Swenson, director of software industry analysis for the NPD Group, says that, from January through July of this year, XP sales accounted for a healthy 42.3 percent of online and brick-and-mortar retail OS sales. By contrast, from January through July of 2002, after XP's launch in October the year prior, Windows 98 accounted for just 23.1 percent of retail sales. (Windows Me launched after Windows 98, but it didn't supplant the older OS.)

Of course, retail sales are only part of the story. With PC prices dropping over the past few years, and with Vista's higher hardware requirements, it's a "no-brainer," according to Swenson, for many people to buy a new PC rather than upgrade an old one. And the large majority of Vista users get the OS on their new systems.

Still, PCWorld.com visitors don't seem to be in any rush to switch to Vista. Our traffic numbers show Vista machines accounting for just 10 percent of the traffic to our site during September (see "Vista vs. XP After 8 Months").

Dell, which offers a choice of Vista or XP on its new computers, is staying close-lipped about how many XP computers it sells compared with Vista. But Michelle Pearcy, manager of the global marketing software team at Dell, confirms that the company is seeing the same trend as Microsoft: XP sales will be higher than expected during its next fiscal year.

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