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Posts from July, 2008

"Hancock" coming to Sony Bravia TVs before Blu-ray, DVD, or cable

Jul 07

Hancockposter

In what could be a glimpse of the future, Sony announced last week that it would offer its hoped-for summer blockbuster, Hancock, as an Internet download to Web-enabled Sony Bravia TVs before distributing it on cable, satellite, DVD, or Blu-ray discs.

The company hasn’t revealed some important details, such as whether the download will be high-definition or even DVD-quality. Nor has it disclosed whether Hancock will be a rental with a limited viewing time, like a pay-per-view movie, or a purchase that viewers can record and keep.

One factor that greatly limits the impact of this announcement, and the potential audience, is the fact that Sony TVs don’t offer built-in Web access, but require consumers to shell out an additional $300 for the Sony Bravia Internet Video Link add-on. Most of the other major TV brands with Web-enabled TVs—including Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, and LG Electronics—don’t require any additional gear to download Web content. However, while TVs from these rivals can access news, sports, and entertainment content from a variety of providers, none yet have access to full-length feature-film downloads.

Sony Electronics has the unusual luxury of having a major Hollywood studio, Sony Pictures, as a sister company, giving it access to blockbuster movies. But it’s still too early to see whether any other movie studios will support such a service, or even if Sony Pictures is willing to upset its traditional video-distribution partners—and the hefty revenue streams they provide—on an ongoing basis, especially since delivering more HD video-on-demand content is a key cable and satellite strategy.

Another potential stumbling block: Sony has a substantial investment in the Blu-ray high-def DVD format, which has only recently emerged from a format war to become the sole successor to DVD. It’s unlikely Sony will do anything in the near-term to jeopardize Blu-ray’s success.

Still, the release of Hancock to Bravia TV owners should be an interesting experiment that could foreshadow a more comprehensive strategy of offering "software"—including hit films and TV
shows—directly to Sony’s customers. And the Bravia TV effort dovetails nicely with a previously announced plan to debut a movie download service sometime this summer for owners of its PlayStation 3 video game
console.

We expect to see more of these types of electronic distribution trials in the future, from not only TV manufacturers, but from other makers of Web-connected devices (such as Blu-ray players) in partnership with movie studios, TV networks, and other content providers.

This isn’t Sony’s first foray into downloads. It already has content deals that allow Web-enabled Bravia TVs to access online content from CBS, Yahoo, Sports Illustrated, YouTube, and Wired.com. Similarly,
owners of Panasonic’s Internet-connected Viera PZ850 plasma with VieraCast can view YouTube videos or photos stored at Google’s Picasa online photo-sharing Web site. Samsung has partnered with USA Today to
allow some Web-enabled models to access news, weather, sports, and more from that publication’s Web site. Sharp’s AquosNet-enabled TVs allow something similar, with content displayed in move-able onscreen widgets.

In perhaps the most movie-centric move, LG Electronics has teamed up with Netflix for a set-top box that can stream movies directly to your TV. What none of these approaches offer, however, is unlimited access to Web-based content, or the ability to surf the Web indiscriminately.

—James K. Willcox

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Samsung Instinct: A budget iPhone alternative

Jul 07

Samsunginstinctmenu
Since it’s little more than a week before the upgraded iPhone hits stores, it’s hard not to measure the Samsung Instinct, a new Sprint-Nextel phone with multimedia features and a touch screen, against Apple’s second-generation multimedia, touch-screen smartphone. (Click on the images for closer looks at the Instinct.)

Some comparisons are impossible until we actually get the iPhone 3G. In initial tests, though, the Instinct appears to be an impressive performer. It costs less than the 3G—$130 vs. $199, with a two-year contract—and it has some features, like voice activation, that we expect even the new iPhone won’t have. It’s a little narrower, and thus more palm-friendly. However, it lacks iPhone features like WiFi access and the ability to handle Office-type documents. It’s also offered by a carrier that’s fared worse in our recent cellphone service Ratings (available to subscribers) than even AT&T, the exclusive iPhone carrier, which has been middling in subscriber satisfaction.

As we reported earlier this year, the Instinct has an iPhone-like 3.2-in. (diag.) touch-screen display with a virtual QWERTY keyboard.  In our labs, the display was responsive and easy to read under most lighting conditions and the virtual keys proved to be well-spaced and, with the aid of vibration feedback, easy to hit with minimal errors.

Samsunginstinctweb
Like the iPhone, the Instinct has a Rolodex-like interface for perusing your photo and music collections with a swipe of your finger. It proved easy to use. Surfing the Web was fast enough on Sprint’s 3G EV-DO network, and you can even scroll up or down a Web page by tilting the Instinct while holding down the camera button. In messaging mode, you can use the included stylus to scribble numbers, letters, symbols, and punctuation (which the Instinct instantly converts into typed text) or to select Web links when surfing the Net—handy when links embedded on Web pages are too close to pick off with your finger.

You can even control the Instinct without touching it. The Speech to Action function, for instance, lets you search the Web, make calls, send pictures or text messages just by just speaking out terms. These searches, which take a little effort to master, are enhanced by Instinct’s GPS technology, which factors in your current location while processing requests. For example, in Live Search mode, say "restaurant," and you’ll see listings of local eateries. Select any in the list to call or to add to your contact list. You can also push the virtual car icon for audible, step-by-step driving directions to your selection.

Samsunginstinctmap
Voice quality was very good when talking, good when listening—on a par with other CDMA phones. Talk time is adequate—just 3.75 hours. But the phone does come with an extra battery.

Besides GPS navigation, the Instinct comes with a music player and multitude of multimedia applications, including streaming TV and radio, music downloads, and game services. It supports Bluetooth data and stereo headsets and has a 1.9-megapixel digital camera that can record video. Like the iPhone, it has HTML support for glitch-free Web browsing; a visual voicemail application that lets you review your messages in any order you wish.

On the downside, the Instinct is a bit sluggish launching multimedia applications, and doesn’t automatically switch views between landscape and portrait. And like the iPhone, it’s also missing some useful features that are quite common on other phones, such as single-key, last-number redial and preset or customizable text messages.

Bottom line: The Instinct’s a good choice if you’re not already heavily invested in Apple’s world—with, say your music collection in iTunes—and you’re a satisfied Sprint customer in the market for a very capable phone with advanced features at a reasonable price. Others may want to consider other iPhone-like phones such as the LG Voyager and Samsung Glyde and, after next week, the new iPhone.

—Mike Gikas

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Nikon Coolpix S600: Is it as quick as Nikon says, or did we all just get punk’d?

Jul 07

Nikons600disclaimer
Just how fast is the Nikon subcompact Coolpix S600? According to the company’s magazine ad featuring Ashton Kutcher, one of Hollywood’s slick young actors, the S600 is the "fastest starting camera of its kind." (Mr. Kutcher can also be seen snapping away with a Nikon at www.ashtonscoolpix.com, along with Nikon’s claims that the $300, 10-megapixel S600 takes "0.7 seconds from start-up to shoot.")

Of course there’s fine print (aha!) below the claim warning that the S600’s speed dominance is only "among compact digital cameras with 28mm zoom lens and optical vibration reduction as of 1/29/08." (The image at right is a digital version of one of Nikon’s official print ad featuring Mr. Kutcher and the CoolPix S600 and S550 cameras. Click on the image to see a larger version of the ad which includes the disclaimer. We circled it in red so you can spot the fine print. If you have Adobe Acrobat software installed, you can also see the full-size ad on Nikon’s online press center.)

Seeing those restrictions in fine print made us ask: Are Nikon and Kutcher messin’ with our heads, like the actor does to his victims on the Candid Camera-style MTV show Punk’d. Or are he and the camera company on the level?

Nikoncoolpixs600
There was only one way to find out for sure. We bought an S600 and handed it to the engineers in our camera lab. They set out to measure "startup time" as how long it takes for a live-view preview to appear on the LCD after the power is turned on.

Here’s how they did the test: They set a software stop watch ticking away on a computer monitor and a camcorder nearby to continuously record the time on the watch. Then they pointed the S600’s LCD toward the camcorder and powered it up when the stopwatch read exactly five seconds. (Click on image below, right.)

After a live-view preview appeared on the LCD, they stopped the camcorder. Reviewing the video frame by frame, they located the one when the LCD went live with the corresponding time.

Nikons600startuptime
It was exactly 0.7 seconds after the power had been turned on. Score one for Nikon.

Is this really faster than other comparable cameras, as Nikon claims? We couldn’t test every other comparable model, but we did check the startup time of two non-Nikon models in the same class (as per that Nikon fine print, both had a 28mm equivalent zoom lens and optical stabilizer, though those factors have no noticeable effect on startup time).

One took 1.5 seconds, the other 1.6—both a bit longer than the S600. Score another for Nikon—sort of, since we didn’t actually test every competing model (we know of at least one other comparable camera introduced after Nikon’s cutoff date of 1/29/08).

For good measure, we also tested the S600’s first-shot and next-shot delay, which were 0.4 and 2 seconds, respectively. Both would rate Very Good in our standard point-and-shoot digital camera Ratings (available only to subscribers).

The bottom line: We didn’t get "punk’d" by Kutcher and Nikon.

—Terry Sullivan

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DTVPal converter box: The good—and bad—news

Jul 07

Dishnetworkdtvpal
The EchoStar TR-40, a DTV converter box announced by Dish Network six months ago, sparked a lot of interest among consumers because of its long list of wanted features and proposed $40 price tag.

But the TR-40 still hasn’t hit the market. And consumers (myself, included) who were the first to request the government’s $40 DTV subsidy have to use their coupons before they expire in coming weeks.

Frustrating
as that is, t
here is some good news. Dish Network, which recently split off its satellite-TV services to EchoStar (now a separate company), has started selling a new $60 DTV converter: the DTVPal. (Click on image at right for a closer look.) This new DTV converter box model offers some of the TR-40’s sought-after features, including:

  • Analog pass-through
  • A searchable seven-day electronic programming guide
  • An "events" timer that automatically changes channels, allowing your VCR or DVD recorder to record multiple shows across many days—channel 4 on 8.pm. Thursday, channel 7 on 9 p.m. Friday, channel 2 on 5 a.m. Sunday, etc.

We’ve bought a few DTVPal units and will be taking a closer look at them soon. We’re eager to find out how this box stacks up against other converter boxes we’ve tested. So far, reviews of the Dish Network DTVPal on other blogs seem to be quite positive.

But there is some bad news, too…

The bad news

Like other DTV converter boxes, the DTVPal has a few issues that may cause consumers further angst.

  • Price. Its suggested retail price of $60 means that even after the $40 government coupon is applied, consumers will still have to shell out $20 (plus local sales tax).
  • A confusing name. "Dish Network" is a brand name better known for subscription-based satellite TV service—which is now run by EchoStar, a totally separate company. "DTV" is also an acronym for DirecTV, the other satellite TV service. And "Pal" could be mistaken for the television standard used in Europe and other parts of the world. Run them all together and it’s easy to see how confusion can arise.
    (I personally called a local retailer—twice—asking for this specific model, by full name. Both times I was told the store had it and I could pick two up. Upon arrival at the store, I was given a Dish Network satellite TV box. When I corrected the salesperson, I was told the store only carried one brand of DTV converters and Dish Network "doesn’t make DTV converters.")
  • Limited availability. Retailers are having a hard time keeping DTV converters, in general, on hand. And some are having particular difficulties stocking DTVPals, specifically. Consumers can purchase units directly from Dish Network’s Web site (www.dtvpal.com) and via a toll-free order line (1-888-638-9912). Both are set up to accept the $40 DTV coupons, but buying direct will incur an additional $9 shipping and handling fee per box ordered.

The take away: If your $40 coupons are about to expire and you really need a box that allows you to program VCR recordings, the DTVPal is the only option available—for now. Just be prepared to shell out some cash for "free" digital TV. But if you can afford to wait (i.e. your coupons don’t expire until October), you might want to keep dreaming of the TR-40 or some other $40 box.

For more help in deciding which DTV converter box is right for you, see our free "Guide to DTV converter boxes" on ConsumerReports.org.

—Paul Eng

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T-Mobile announces pro-rating of termination fees

Jul 07

Dollarsign
T-Mobile has just weighed in with particulars on how it will pro-rate its early termination fee, the penalty of up to $200 it charges when subscribers cancel their service before the end of a new 12- or 24-month service contract starting June 28.

T-Mobile brings to three the number of major cell carriers who are reducing such fees, which range from $150 to $200, depending on how far subscribers are into their contract. Two other big companies, Alltel (which may soon be swallowed up by Verizon) and Sprint, are not yet making such adjustments, though they’ve pledged to do so.

So while T-Mobile’s announcement is welcome, its pro-rating is in some ways less generous than the schemes for Verizon and AT&T, the other majors who pro-rate their termination fees. T-Mobile’s $200 fee, the highest among the three companies, doesn’t actually drop at all for the first year-and-a-half of two-year contracts.

When it does, it drops to $100 from the nineteenth through twenty-first months. That’s more than you’d get dinged at that point by either Verizon or AT&T. Both those companies have a $175 fee that drops by $5 for every month of service, meaning their fees would slide from $85 to $75 at Verizon and from $90 to $80 at AT&T in that same three-month period, a year-and-a-half and counting into the contract. (Verizon’s ETF is slightly lower than AT&T’s each month, because its monthly $5 pro-rating begins on the contract start date, while AT&T’s starts after the ETF kicks in in the second month, according to company spokespeople.)

However, T-Mobile’s fee is better for consumers during the last three months of two-year contracts, when it drops to $50; that’s $10 to $25 lower than the penalty for breaking an AT&T or Verizon contract during that period. And T-Mobile’s pro-rating is significantly better on 12-month contracts. Although T-Mobile’s fee doesn’t drop at all until six months in, it then drops dramatically to $100 for the next three months, $35 to $50 below what the others would levy at that time. And the T-Mobile’s fee kicks down to $50 in the last three months of the contract, besting the others by $70 to $85.

For other money-saving tips, see our other post, "Cell plan extra charges: Why and what you can do" and "Seven ways to cut your phone bills" on ConsumerReports.org.

—Jeff Blyskal

How pro-rated early termination fees compare

Boxes marked in green denote the lowest fees available among the three carriers.

For 24-month contracts

If you cancel when you’re in this month of your 24-month contract…
You’ll pay this early termination fee (ETF) if your wireless service provider is:
 
T-Mobile
AT&T
Verizon
1st
$200 or 0*
$0*
$0*
2nd
$200
$175
$170
3rd
$200
$170
$165
4th
$200
$165
$160
5th
$200
$160
$155
6th
$200
$155
$150
7th
$200
$150
$145
8th
$200
$145
$140
9th
$200
$140
$135
10th
$200
$135
$130
11th
$200
$130
$125
12th
$200
$125
$120
13th
$200
$120
$115
14th
$200
$115
$110
15th
$200
$110
$105
16th
$200
$105
$100
17th
$200
$100
$95
18th
$200
$95
$90
19th
$100
$90
$85
20th
$100
$85
$80
21st
$100
$80
$75
22nd
$50
$75
$70
23rd
$50
$70
$65
24th
The lesser of $50 or monthly plan fee
$65
$60

For 12-month contracts

If you cancel when you’re in this month of your 12-month contract…
You’ll pay this early termination fee (ETF) if your wireless service provider is:
 
T-Mobile
AT&T
Verizon
1st
$200 or 0*
$0*
$0*
2nd
$200
$175
$170
3rd
$200
$170
$165
4th
$200
$165
$160
5th
$200
$160
$155
6th
$200
$155
$150
7th
$100
$150
$145
8th
$100
$145
$140
9th
$100
$140
$135
10th
$50
$135
$130
11th
$50
$130
$125
12th
The lesser of $50 or monthly plan fee
$125
$120

Note: *AT&T and Verizon provide 30-day trial periods in which you may cancel without incurring termination fees. T-Mobile provides only a 20-day trial period (30 days in California).

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Vizio hits $600, $800 prices for 32- and 42-inch plasmas

Jul 07

Vizio_vp422_edit_2
In conjunction with retail partner Wal-Mart, Vizio—a company whose sets have typically fared well in our Ratings of plasma TVs (available to subscribers)—is now offering 32- and 42-inch 720p plasma models at prices of $600 and $800, respectively. The 32-inch screen size for plasma, popular in Asia, is new to the U.S. and will enable plasma to compete for the first time with smaller LCD models.

The company has also announced a new higher-performance series—called XVT—that will include both 1080p plasma and LCD models.

The VP422, the 42-inch model, is especially low-priced compared to 720p models from other well-known brands, which typically cost $1,000 or more. While there are no other 32-inch plasmas, the VP322‘s price compares favorably to 32-inch LCD models in our Ratings, which are typically priced at $800 or more. One exception: Vizio’s own VW32L HDTV, which sells for the same $600.

Both models have 3 HDMI inputs, plus component video and RGB PC connections, and offer multiple color temperature settings and independent Red/Green/Blue adjustments.  The company claims that these latest models use new glass for improved brightness for use in brighter rooms. The TVs are now available in all 3,400 Wal-Mart retail locations.

XVT: A step-up seriesVizio_plasma_edit

There are three models in the new XVT series: two 1080p LCDs with 120Hz technology to reduce motion blur, and a 50-inch 1080p plasma. The two LCD sets—the 42-inch SV42XVT ($1,500) and 47-inch SV47XVT ($1,900)—include video presets customized for specific types of content (movies, sports, TV, etc.) and SRS Labs’ TruSurround XT virtual surround audio processing. The 50-inch 1080p plasma, the VP505XVT ($1,700), includes Silicon Optix’s Reon video processing circuitry as well as the SRS audio technology. The plasma set also sports a "Brandy Wine" colored speaker grill, and includes an HDMI cable. The new models
will be available in July in consumer electronics retailers such as Circuit City and Sears, as well as warehouse clubs including Costco and Sam’s Club.

Vizio sets have done well in our Ratings, generally offering very good performance at an especially low price, occasionally earning them a CR Best Buy designation.

—James K. Willcox

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BBB warns of DTV converter-box scam

Jul 07

Keepclear
The confusing conversion from analog to digital TV broadcasts is ripe for consumer deception—which is exactly what one company is practicing in a nationwide advertising campaign, according to the Better Business Bureau.

A BBB investigation found that Universal TechTronics is peddling "five-year warranties" for $59 that must be purchased with their "free" digital TV converter boxes. With shipping and handling fees rolled in, the total cost per box is nearly $100.

BBB believes that these are the same boxes consumers can buy in electronics retail stores across the country using $40 U.S. government coupons that make the total cost to consumers about $20 per box. Consumer Reports just completed tests of 14 DTV converter boxes.

"The bottom line is that these ads confuse and mislead consumers," said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. "Unfortunately consumers who do respond may find that not only will they not receive free products and services as implied by the ads, but they will end up paying more than they would have by taking advantage of the really good deal being offered through the DTV coupon program."

Universal TechTronics’ ads imply that their converter boxes are free and will provide free channel reception, similar to the type of services consumers receive through cable or satellite providers. Ads state, "No Bills: New ClearView TV receives free channels, no need to pay for cable to get the new digital picture quality and sound," and "Public to Get Free TV Without Gov’t Coupon!" Additionally, the ads use the term "Miracle ClearView TV" to disguise the product and further deceive consumers.

Universal TechTronics has several product lines and also does business under the name Heat Surge LLC. Overall, in the past nine months BBB has received nearly 200 complaints about the company’s business practices.

The company has received an unsatisfactory rating from BBB due to its pattern of complaints. To date, complaints against the company concern slow delivery or non-receipt of product, difficulty reaching customer service representatives, delays in obtaining refunds after returning merchandise, product quality issues and advertising claims. The BBB reliability report on this company is available online.

For more information on the DTV transition, which calls for analog TV broadcasts to end by February 2009, see the FCC’s official informative web site (www.dtv.gov) or Consumer Reports‘s DTV Transition Information Center.

To apply for the $40 U.S. Government coupons for DTV converter boxes, visit the NTIA’s web site: www.dtv2009.gov.

If you have a complaint about the digital TV transition, visit the Share Your Story section of Hear Us Now, the consumer advocacy arm of Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports. And if you have a question about setting up your digital TV gear, visit out free  Digital TV transition discussion forum.

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Old to new iPhone: AT&T upgrade policies

Jul 07

Attlogo
AT&T will be offering various breaks to current iPhone owners to induce them to upgrade to the new iPhone 3G, which debuts July 11.

The new models will cost $200 less than comparable first-generation iPhones—potentially leaving those who recently bought the older model stuck with a fairly new, already outmoded phone.

Anyone who bought the original iPhone on or after May 27 will be able to return it and receive a refund on the price difference between comparable new and old iPhones, minus a 10 percent restocking fee.

"We just want to be fair to customers who were very, very late purchasers of the 2G iPhone," said AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel in an interview. Anyone who merely bought earlier—including merely "very late"—will be out of luck on the returning their iRelic and receiving a refund on its price difference with the new model.

Refund or not, anyone who upgrades from original to 3G iPhone will have to sign a new 2-year contract that begins when they take possession of the new phone. And, as we previously reported, they’ll have to pay $10 more per month for the data plan. Those who hold on to their old iPhones won’t see a data-plan increase—even when they renew their contracts, according to Siegel.

AT&T is taking a quiet approach to publicizing these policies. Siegel maintains they’ve been in effect since the new iPhone was introduced. Yet there’s no mention of them in the iPhone press release or on AT&T’s Web site.

—Mike Gikas

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DTV converter box: Ratings and buying advice

Jul 07

Our guide to DTV converter boxes, including Ratings and model recommendations, is now available on ConsumerReports.org. This section expands on all the information we’ve previously posted about these set-top boxes, including:

We hope this new section will serve as an online "help center" for DTV converter boxes and digital TV transition issues. But we realize there are still many challenges for us and for consumers.

Consumer Reports buys everything we test at retail, just as you do, and we’ve experienced the limited product availability that’s frustrating many consumers. Readers have also complained that they can’t find products at the prices we report. Those prices are what we actually paid at retail; there’s no way for us to predict what pricing you will find.

Similarly, our reports and Ratings reflect the results of tests here in our Yonkers, NY, headquarters. There are so many variables that affect TV reception that your experience may vary.

As the February 2009 switchover deadline looms ever closer, new issues and problems are bound to pop up. In keeping with our mission to "test, inform and protect" consumers, we’ll be adding more DTV information—including the latest converter box Ratings, shopping tips, images and illustrations—on a regular basis. ("Bookmark" our Guide to DTV converter boxes section in your Web browser and subscribe to the RSS feed of our Electronics Blog so you won’t miss any posts regarding DTV converter boxes.)

Meanwhile, Consumers Union (our publisher and parent company) will continue to press for consumers’ rights regarding the digital TV transition, including issues such as coupon expiration dates. Visit our HearUsNow.org website and its Transition to Digital TV page for more information. You, our readers, can be—and have been—a big help, too. Post your questions, answers, and helpful tips on our digital TV discussions forums online and on our Electronics Blog.

—Paul Eng

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Is June 18 the end of the line for Windows XP? Not quite.

Jul 07

Windowsxppro1_2
After a 5-month stay of execution, the end is nigh for Windows XP.

Tomorrow, June 18, will be the last day you can purchase a Dell computer with XP pre-installed. Dell has announced this in order to meet Microsoft’s June 30 deadline for ceasing sales of XP.

I spot-checked other manufacturers’ sites and found limited availability of computers, mainly business-oriented models, available with XP. Compaq and HP together offered at least 11 laptops and 7 desktops, Lenovo a couple of laptops, and Sony one model. I couldn’t find any Gateway models with XP.

Microsoft had originally intended to kill XP this past January in order to give its heir, Vista, total reign over the PC market.  But an outcry from consumers and businesses  (and manufacturers looking to appease them) stayed Microsoft’s hand for five months to give XP users time to warm to the beleaguered Vista.

Says Microsoft to Vista detractors:

"We love that you love Windows XP…But our commitment to innovation sometimes means making tough choices. This is one of them."

Despite the tone of finality, Microsoft has left open several loopholes so that XP lovers can hang onto it for some years to come.

If you’re a business user:
XP downgrades will still be available to business users after buying Vista.  A popular option for users not ready to quit XP,
individual manufacturers can sell PCs with versions of Vista and
Windows XP Professional both included.  Dell, for example, is selling
machines with XP preloaded and installation media and support for
Windows Vista Business or Ultimate, dubbed the "Vista Bonus option."

The downgrade option is available only with Vista Business and
Ultimate systems (not Home Basic or Home Premium) and even then you can
only downgrade to XP Professional (not XP Home Edition or XP MCE.)

But home users have an option, too:
Microsoft will continue to make Windows XP Home edition available for "ULCPCs" (that is, ultra-low-cost PCs) through mid-2010.

ULCPCs are a relatively new type of mobile computer designed for
people who want to complement their primary computer with a more
limited device. They generally have smaller screen sizes and slower
processors, which are fine for basic tasks like word processing and
e-mail.

Microsoft says that extended support—free security updates and for-pay, per-incident support—will be available for all versions of XP through April 2014.

There’s no reason for most people to shy away from Vista when buying
a new Windows PC. However, you might consider using XP if you’re on a
tight budget, engage in very few risky online activities, and aren’t
anxious to learn the quirks of a new Windows user interface. Geeks may
appreciate XP as a "leaner" OS that runs a bit faster when performing
complex tasks, and offers more development possibilities for
multimedia, Windows programs, and the Web.  A seasoned PC user might
also be turned off by Vista’s habit of nagging you whenever you install
a new program.

—Nick Kolman-Mandle

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