When it comes to the products we purchase with our hard earned (and shrinking) dollars, it goes without saying that we want good value and good quality.

But how good does the value have to be before we pronounce it “good” and how good does the quality have to be before we characterize it similarly?

For a product to have good value, it should deliver as promised whatever it is supposed to deliver without violating the pricing boundaries set by the markets and our own experience. Good quality means that it is at least comparable to favorably viewed products of a similar ilk.

Further, if a product delivers good value and good quality, we tend–especially in the insurance industry–to stick with it for as long as possible. After all, we don’t like risky things in our cozy little corner of the business universe, so why take a chance on some new product when the old one works just fine, thank you? (Thus, the incredible lifespan of the mainframe computer.)

All of this brings us to the present discussion of Microsoft’s Windows XP, a product that has turned out to deliver good value and good quality. In fact, the quality and value of this computing platform have been so good that even with the introduction of a newer, more secure, and more feature-rich OS (operating system) a year ago, a significant number of buyers are still clamoring for the older OS.

If your job is to market Microsoft’s newer Windows Vista, you might even say that XP was “too good.” That is to say, the older product just refuses to die and fade away, even after nearly 8 years in service–a really long time for any version of any software.

The awesome goodness of XP has been thoroughly proven by the fact that Microsoft continues to extend the life of the older OS. The company has announced that it will allow major computer manufacturers to continue offering Windows XP through the end of July 2009. In addition, Microsoft says it will “continue to offer Windows XP Starter Edition in emerging markets where it is currently available for the rapidly growing class of hardware-constrained ultra-low cost PCs until June 30, 2010.”

All this his happening despite the fact that Windows Vista–ostensibly the replacement for the XP OS–was introduced in January 2007.

Why is Microsoft doing this? “While we’ve been pleased with the positive response we’ve seen and heard from customers using Windows Vista, there are some customers who need a little more time to make the switch to Windows Vista,” a Microsoft spokesman said.

While that sounds reasonable, it is, in fact, a bucket-load of horsefeathers. The truth is that, as noted in the Processor newsletter, more than a third of today’s new computer buyers choose to “downgrade” to Windows XP rather than buy a Vista-loaded machine.

And why are users choosing to stay with the devil they know over the devil they don’t know? Several factors are involved. First, there has been the much-publicized difficulty some have had in upgrading their machines to Vista. Second, many have balked at the idea of learning a new OS when the old one has become a comfortable habit. Third, there have been the inevitable reports of some existing applications not playing nicely in the newer OS.

Probably most important, however, is the plain fact that XP–with its years of updates, patches and improvements–has proven to be a remarkably robust platform. This is not to say that Vista, which I reviewed in National Underwriter (March 3, 2008), doesn’t offer significant improvements in security and usability, along with some impressive new bells and whistles. It certainly does all of that.

But, more than anything, insurance technology is a culture that embraces that old saw: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Many users are thus content to continue on the current Microsoft platform and forego the hassle of deploying and learning a new system–not to mention the $399 MSRP of Vista or the even higher cost of brand new hardware.

And here’s something else to consider. Microsoft has only promised to provide technical support for Vista for 5 years, meaning that support for the new OS is set to expire in a little over 3 years from now.

In the end, Microsoft’s marketing of the Vista OS has been hampered by the perhaps unexpected popularity and success of the company’s previous OS version–and that is not only in the insurance industry. That popularity and success has, in turn, thrown the software giant’s marketing schedule completely out of whack.

It will be up to the markets to decide, ultimately, how this will play out, but my guess is that Microsoft will have to make further adjustments, which may include extending support for Vista as well.

And who can be sure that Vista won’t be too good as well?