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Windows XP will soon no longer be available for purchase. We look at what that implies for Windows XP Support and Activation.

I head that Microsoft is discontinuing Windows XP. Does that mean that I'll no longer be able to activate it? How about patches and updates, will those stop too?

There's "discontinuing" and then there's "discontinuing". Fortunately for you and perhaps millions of other folks, we're currently at the good version of "discontinuing". The bad version won't happen, we hope, for a long time.

Let me explain what I mean by good and bad...

Microsoft has announced that they plan to stop selling Windows XP soon.

Two important points need to be made about that statement:

  • Exactly when it'll happen seems to change frequently. Apparently in response to consumer and OEM demand, Microsoft has pushed the date back a time or two already and could conceivably change their minds a few more times.

  • The only thing that statement affects is the availability of new copies of Windows XP in retail boxes and on OEM machines. You won't be able to buy new copies of Windows XP, that's all.

Activation and support are two completely different issues.

"... while Microsoft might someday soon stop selling Windows XP, they're going to continue to support it in various forms for a long time thereafter."

Microsoft typically continues to support various versions long after sales have stopped, typically for several years, particularly when it comes to critical security issues. It was only two years ago that support for Windows 98 and Windows Me was brought to an end which was well after they were no longer commercially available. (I know that some still feel that happened too soon, but the practical reality is that it's not realistic to support all versions forever ... there has to be a cutoff date of some sort.)

The current support lifecycle published by Microsoft for Windows XP Pro shows "mainstream" support ending in 2009, and "extended" support (which includes security issues) ending in 2014. It wouldn't surprise me if those dates were extended some day, simply because of the large user base that appears to be continuing to use Windows XP long after Windows Vista was released.

Activation is less clear.

As you know, product activation requires resources on Microsoft's side to receive, process and acknowledge the activation request. Just as it's unreasonable to assume a product will be supported for ever, it's probably unrealistic to assume that those activation servers will be there forever, or will process Windows XP activation forever. However there's no guideline for how long activation support will remain, or what one would have to do to activate Windows legally after it's gone.

Here's my prediction wild guess:

  • activation will continue to work at least as long as any form of support is offered for Windows XP

  • activation will likely work for some long time after support is terminated

  • Microsoft could publish or provide a patch to disable the activation requirement once they decide to terminate activation support. They could, but I'm not saying they will. It's anyone's guess, really.

  • Regardless of what Microsoft does, activation hacks exist. Should Microsoft stop supporting legal activation, the hacks will become more mainstream.

So while Microsoft might someday soon stop selling Windows XP, they're going to continue to support it in various forms for a long time thereafter. Once that period is over, things may get interesting, but hopefully we'll mostly be on new platforms by that time - Windows or otherwise.

Article C3364 - April 27, 2008 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Michael Horowitz
May 2, 2008 9:49 PM

The immediate deadline is June 30th, but YOU WILL BE ABLE TO BUY WINDOWS XP AFTERWARDS.

New computers with XP Pro pre-installed can be had from Dell and HP assuming you are willing to buy and pay for the business or Ultimate versions of Vista.
New ultra-small ultra-cheap laptops will still be sold with XP Home edition.
Smaller PC vendors, referred to by Microsoft as system builders, will still be able to sell either XP Home or XP Pro on any computer, even after June 30th.
New retail copies of XP will no longer be sold by Microsoft, but existing copies that stores have in inventory can, I think, still be sold.
There are also OEM copies of Windows OS CDs, that differ legally, but not technically, from the retail shrink-wrapped copies of XP. I'm not sure what the rules are there.

May 6, 2008 9:51 AM

Regena did you even look on the article above? I doubt it...

One more time, YES, THEY WILL for a long time (maybe longer than you even need)

As for my opinion, activation for Windows XP might even not be dropped for ever (for as long as Windows exist anyway, LOL). The activation procedure is also there in Windows Vista and is quite sure to be included in all future Windows Editions. So as long as the activation servers continue running, support for previous versions is virtually resource free for Microsoft.

Richard FDisk
March 27, 2009 9:26 PM

A really simple and relatively inexpensive solution is to get a program such as Symantec's Backup Exec System Recovery, and take a backup image of an already "Activated" XP installation get all the KB Updates from MS Download and store them somewhere safe, "if" when the time comes to re-install then re-install the image add the updates and voila back in business.

*Note: Backup Images are not intended to be used in place of legally obtained software MS windows or other wise.

August 19, 2012 4:34 PM

If I own a legit copy of windows and Microsoft turns off. the activation at there end, then is it legal for me to use a tool to force activation of my legit copy of windows?

August 19, 2012 4:52 PM

Regardless of what Microsoft does, activation hacks exist. Should Microsoft stop supporting legal activation, the hacks will become more mainstream. While this is true a truce between Google and Microsoft has been written. GOOGLE is making it more difficult to find these tools. And the hackers have now even generated disks that don't include names of ISO'some appear in these newer gen of.. well preactivated windows. So now what becomes legal and illegal when a product is no longer able to be activated. So then is indeed. Then legal to be illegal? Or will Windows wind up becoming open source? And if that occurs then what?

Mark J
August 19, 2012 9:58 PM

If you own a legit copy of a Microsoft product, a phone call to Microsoft will usually get you a working serial number to register your product. Microsoft tends to be very good with things like that, I'm no lawyer, but forced activation under any circumstances would probably be illegal.

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