Research: A third of new PCs being downgraded to XP

Vista may be what Microsoft sells, but XP remains popular

More than one in every three new PCs is downgraded from Windows Vista to the older Windows XP, either at the factory or by the buyer, a performance and metrics researcher said Monday.

According to Devil Mountain Software, which operates a community-based testing network , nearly 35% of the 3,000-plus PCs it examined had been downgraded from Vista to XP.

"Either these machines were downgraded by [sellers like] Dell or HP, or they were downgraded by the user after they got the machine," said Craig Barth, the chief technology officer of Devil Mountain. "In any case, these machines are no longer running Vista."

Barth used data provided by users to Devil Mountain's exo.performance.network -- which it kicked off last year and has expanded by partnering with Infoworld, a Computerworld sister publication -- to come up with his numbers. By collating such things as the vendor and system model number with manufacturers' catalogs, Barth was able to identify machines that were probably shipped in the last six months, a period when virtually every new PC was offered with Vista preinstalled.

"The 35% is only an estimate, but it shows a trend within our own user base," Barth said. "People are taking advantage of Vista's downgrade rights."

By the terms of Microsoft 's end user licensing agreement (EULA), Vista Business and Vista Ultimate can be "downgraded" to XP Professional ; businesses that purchase Vista Enterprise can also downgrade to XP.

Although Microsoft retired Windows XP from mainstream availability at the end of June -- it stopped shipping the seven-year-old operating system to retail and large computer makers -- some OEMs have continued to offer new PCs with XP preinstalled by doing the downgrade at the factory. Hewlett-Packard, for example, has promised it will offer the downgrade option on its business-class desktops, notebooks and workstations through July 2009.

"Vista's installed base certainly doesn't equal the number of Vista licenses [that Microsoft's] sold," Barth said, citing the exo.performance.network data as proof. "We're seeing this a lot in the financial sector."

Devil Mountain's primary product, the DMS Clarity Studio performance analyzing software, is installed in large numbers at several major financial firms. "One client is not doing Vista at all, but they're refreshing their entire platform this year," Barth said. The company, a nationally-known securities firm, is instead downgrading to the 64-bit version of Windows XP.

Last year, Devil Mountain benchmarked Vista and XP performance using other performance testing tools, and concluded that XP was much faster. Barth said things hadn't changed since then. "Everything I've seen clearly shows me that Vista is an OS that should never have left the barn."

Even when stripping Vista down to core components to make it as close in functionality to XP as possible, Vista was 40% slower, Barth claimed, citing recent tests Devil Mountain's done. "Vista's performance had been an ongoing problem, and the only thing that's saving Microsoft's bacon is the faster processors and more RAM on today's PCs.

"Moore's Law is always on their side."

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