Delaying the inevitable
Back in June, Microsoft decided that it was going to keep the Windows XP market alive for the channel - as opposed to big OEMs - only. Of course you can still get XP from OEMs, but via the rather counter-intuitive "downgrade" system.
So this created a niche for the channel to service the sizable community of customers, especially SMBs, who didn't trust Vista and wanted to stick with what they knew. However, the window (no pun intended) of opportunity was only open until the end of January 2009, after which Microsoft would stop flogging it altogether.
Now, for reasons yet to be defined by Microsoft, it appears that distributors can get their XP orders in by 31st January, but don't have to take delivery or pay for the products until 30th May 2009.
So far there has been no direct communication from Microsoft to the channel on this matter. One indie retailer told HEXUS.channel: "I'm signed up to almost every email you can think of with Microsoft and nothing was mentioned in any of them." However, some reports are claiming to have received an email from Microsoft confirming this move.
It's not surprising that Microsoft would want to keep this relatively quiet as every extra bit of life Microsoft gives XP is, quite reasonably, interpreted as an admission of failure with Vista.
Many businesses are opting to sit tight and not upgrade their XP systems until the new Windows 7 operating system becomes available, which may be as early as the middle of next year. Presumably they're doing so on the assumption that 7 will be better than Vista...
UPDATE - 09:30 23rd December 2008: We received the following statement from Microsoft confirming our story.
"Microsoft is making accommodation through a flexible inventory program that will allow distributors to place their final orders by January 31, 2009; and take delivery against those orders through May 30, 2009. This is not an extension of sales."