The US government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), may stick with Windows XP for up to three more years, in the latest blow for Microsoft's Vista operating system.

This is despite the fact that the agency plans in January to begin refreshing its PCs with hardware capable of supporting Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system. The hardware upgrade of about 7,000 desktop PCs will be managed by Electronic Data Systems.

Gregg "Skip" Bailey, the ATF's CIO, said the planned desktop system replacements are part of the bureau's normal three-year upgrade cycle for PCs.

The decision not to go with Windows Vista was made for a number of reasons, according to Bailey. Probably the most important one, he said, is the ATF doesn't have enough time between now and January to verify that all of its systems will run effectively on the new operating system.

The ATF, which is part of the Department of Justice, is beginning a Vista testing program, but Bailey said the PC hardware will be upgraded before the testing work is completed.

In any event, Bailey said he doesn't see a compelling need to move quickly to Windows Vista. Although he thinks Vista offers advantages over Windows XP in the area of security, the problems it addresses are things "we have solved in other ways," he said.

Nonetheless, Bailey wants systems that could handle Vista in case Microsoft drops support for Windows XP in 2010. But he's hopeful that the software vendor won't force an OS change prior to the ATF's next scheduled hardware refresh after the one starting in January. If Microsoft does extend its XP support beyond 2010, the ATF will be able to make it to that next refresh before moving to Vista, Bailey said.

The ATF isn't the only federal agency that has cited Vista testing as a reason for not moving quickly to the new operating system. Earlier this year, the Department of Transportation told its end-users not to upgrade to Vista, partly because of potential application compatibility problems.