In what's being described as a "unprecedented move", it has been revealed that Microsoft has committed to provide support for its retired Windows XP operating system until 2014.

This will be 13 years after the software giant released the OS, and longer than the usual 10 years considered necessary.

The news was revealed in a letter sent to customers this week, in which Microsoft senior VP Bill Veghte said they will provide security patches "and other critical updates" for Windows XP until April 2014.

"Our ongoing support for Windows XP is the result of our recognition that people keep their Windows-based PCs for many years", Veghte said.

The reality is that Microsoft has no choice other than the continue to support XP, considering many of its large business customer have never made the switch to Vista, and it is continuing to offer the OS to ULCPCs such as the Eee.

Veghte also admitted that people who want the older OS will be able to buy it via a downgrade option within Vista:

"It's true that we will stop selling Windows XP as a retail packaged product and stop licensing it directly to major PC manufacturers, but customers who still need Windows XP will be able to get it."

And, on the subject of the next Windows operating system - Windows 7 - it seems it's only 18 months away: "Our plan is to deliver Windows 7 approximately three years after the January 2007 general availability launch date of Windows Vista".