Will the death of XP really hurt you?

Different decisions needed than for enterprise users.

Microsoft warned us well over a year ago that XP will Die Die Die, at least on new computers, by the end of June, 2008. Petitions and prayers notwithstanding, XP has a firm date with Boot Hill. RIP, XP.

Change is the only constant and we need to embrace new things, yada yada yada, but this is business. Many voices in the tech biz complain about Vista, with good reason. I have yet to see an advantage for small businesses that Vista provides over Windows 2000 with a handful of third party utilities. Even some Microsoft apologists will apologize for Vista when you force them to tell the truth.

All this is beside the point. Do you really need to ensure every added computer comes into your business with XP for valid technical reasons, such as special software you wrote that doesn't work with Vista? (a problem for big companies that write their own software). Or are you just afraid of change, or afraid of spending the money that a jump to Vista often demands? Let me show you a way to sidestep both problems and avoid Vista a bit longer, maybe even another two or three years.

First, check out the refurbished desktops and laptops at the major brand outlets. Prefer Dell? HP? Gateway? Lenovo? They all have factory direct refurbished systems for sale, and some still have XP installed. But this option won't last long, because refurbished systems are usually those computers returned by users who either didn't like them or couldn't figure them out, so they tend to be fairly new. Many of them have already been infected with Vista, so you'll have to act quick to grab the last XP systems from the refurb piles at major vendors.

Second, check systems that have been returned after their lease term from huge corporations refreshing their desktop and laptop inventories. Companies tend to keep their systems three or four years before replacing them, so the off-lease systems available today were purchased originally in 2004 or 2005, prime XP years. When the hard disks are wiped (and they will be from reputable outlets), the original OS gets put back on. Almost all off-lease systems include the Windows Certificate of Authority label on the box and XP on the drive. Sometimes these systems are labeled off-lease, recertified, or reconditioned, depending on the outlet.

I trust uBid.com for the systems I buy for my small business test lab. When my wife wanted a new system last December, I got a refurbished Gateway desktop for her, with XP. Prices range from under US$100 for older P4 systems to $600 for newer high end systems. Prices vary considerably based on many factors, so shop carefully. A good deal today can be beat by a great deal tomorrow, and vice versa. But in the refurbished computer listings, many systems are new enough to have Vista installed, so uBid may not be a good answer for too much longer.

Let's go to the Web. Search for "off-lease computers" and you'll find over 300,000 listings. The majority of these are small resellers that buy off-lease systems, check them out at least a little (some sites offer decent warranties), and sell them online. When you look into the computer recycling business, you'll find an entire ecosystem of buyers, sellers, middlemen, and outlets for everything ranging from complete computers to metal computer cases sold by the ton for scrap. Check out resellers in this business near you (they are everywhere) and you can tap this enormous resource as well.

What do I think about eBay as an option? Be aware that some legal authorities believe that up to 40 per cent of all eBay items listed are stolen. Buying from sellers with online stores, not just individuals, will increase your odds of a "clean" machine. I have learned the hard way never to buy from a seller that doesn't include Buyer Protection to cover the amount of the purchase. You have to use PayPal to get that peace of mind, but it's worth it to me.

That said, I just checked desktops and used XP as a filter in the "PC Desktops Finder" listing on the left side of the eBay page, and 1,631 computers popped up. You can also search by brand, processor type and speed, amount of memory, hard drive capacity, and condition as well as putting in keywords, as I did with the XP test. When I put in "refurbished" for condition and left XP as the search keyword, 607 desktop computers appeared.

The final option is to bite the proverbial bullet, try Vista, and see if it will hurt as much as you think. Get a refurbished system with Vista, even if you have to pay maybe $50 more than a similar system with XP. Try your software and you might be surprised. When HP sent me a Vista system last year, the first thing I did was load up the Firefox browser and the office suite from OpenOffice. Both ran great with nary a hiccup.

Vista is inevitable, and the demise of XP this month emphasizes that point. You can delay Vista and save money at the same time, but you can't run forever. And upgrades from Microsoft have taken much of the pain away from Vista migration. It still stings, but you can live with it. Just remember you can buy smart and save money on new computers, even with Vista.

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