FAQ: XP Deathwatch, T Minus 1 Week

What about the "XP tax" I've heard about?

The difference between XP in its usual form and XP as a downgrade is what some have dubbed the "XP tax," a surcharge, so to speak, derived from Microsoft's licensing requirements. After June 30, those requirements limit XP as a factory-install to downgrades, and further limit those downgrades only when purchasing Vista Business or Vista Ultimate.

Here's an example of the tax in action.

At Dell, the Latitude D630 laptop comes standard with Vista Home Basic, the lowest-priced version of the operating system in Microsoft's arsenal. But to qualify for a downgrade to XP Professional -- which is, remember, not just the only version that can be factory-installed but also the pricier of the two, Home and Pro -- customers have to opt for, at the least, Vista Business.

Vista Business is a $99 add to the D630, according to Dell's online store customization tool, as is what Dell dubs the "Bonus" option, which in effect sells you a license to Vista Business but installs XP Professional.

In this case, then, the XP tax is $99.

But it can be higher. Much higher. Take Dell's XPS 1730 notebook, a zaftig gamer's portable (10.6 pounds, minimum). By default, the lowest-priced XPS 1730 configuration is sold with Vista Home Premium, which doesn't allow for downgrading to XP. Instead, buyers with XP on the brain have to shell out an additional $170 (which includes a $20 downgrade surcharge) for Vista Ultimate just to get XP.

The tax, of course, is a byproduct of the price differences between versions of Vista. But while Vista Home Basic omits numerous features found in Vista Business -- see this Microsoft chart for the maker's take -- and even Home Premium lacks a few features included with Business, it's all moot if all you want is XP.

No wonder that some pundits, bloggers and analysts have said that XP's days are numbered.

Can I still buy Windows XP Home?

Yes. All three of the major online technology outlets -- Amazon.com, Buy.com and Newegg.com -- that we started tracking four weeks ago still show XP Home in stock.

Even though the June 30 deadline is just a week away, don't forget that Microsoft is not drawing a line in the sand on retail sales: Stores, brick-and-mortar as well as online will be allowed to sell out their existing inventory.

Has there been any change in XP's retail price in the last week?

No, the prices at the e-tailers we track didn't budge. Like last week, the least expensive price, shipping included, for a boxed copy of Windows XP Home OEM was the $84.99 posted by Newegg.com.

A three-day average of the lowest "Buy It Now" price, shipping included, for a legitimate copy of Windows XP Home OEM on eBay, however, fell ever so slightly from last week, down 0.3% to $90.57.

How tough will it be to get a copy of XP a week from now?

Not hard at all by the evidence on eBay, which showed a 9% jump in the number of auctions that popped up when we ran a search using "Windows XP" and narrowed the results by clicking "Software."

Other "inventory" tallies on eBay that we've tracked for the past five weeks were also up over last week. Results for the same search, narrowed not only for "Software" but also for "Operating Systems" and then "Windows," was up nearly 17% in the same period.

Over the longer haul, it's clear that auction listings have climbed substantially as XP's retirement date has approached. The Windows XP/Software/Operating Systems/Windows search results, for example, are up 24% over the first time we checked eBay on the weekend of May 24 and 25. For Windows XP/Software, the increase was an even larger 61% over the same four weeks.

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