Microsoft VP dangles possibility of XP availability past June 30

Company still not interested in licensing XP sales after that date

In an open letter to customers, Microsoft vice president Bill Veghte -- who runs the Windows group -- has dangled the possibility of continued Windows XP availability past June 30, while reiterating that Microsoft was committed to ending most licensing sales of XP on that date.

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Most of the options Veghte described in that letter are old news: the "downgrade" option that lets Vista Business and Ultimate customers install XP over Vista using the Vista license, the ability of "white box" PC makers (usually mom-and-pop shops) to install XP until February 2009, and the capability of PC makers to install XP Home on sub-$600 PCs designed for poor countries (but also available in the United States) until January 2010.

But he also wrote what seemed to be an escape hatch for major PC makers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard to offer XP preinstalled on new computers without doing the "downgrade" dance: "Additionally, System Builders (sometimes referred to as 'local OEMs'), may continue to purchase Windows XP through Authorized Distributors through January 31, 2009. All OEMs, including major OEMs, have this option."

Dell, HP, Lenovo, and others have all said they will not sell new PCs with XP preinstalled after this week, though each will offer the "downgrade" option, usually as an extra cost option, on select models until at least February 2009.