Reacting to criticism from customers that upgrading from Windows XP was "impossible," Microsoft today announced it would give away a limited migration tool to help people move to a newer operating system.

The tool, PCmover Express for Windows XP, is one of several migration utilities from Laplink, a Bellevue, Wash. company whose offices are near those of Microsoft.

Microsoft will also begin nagging XP users to upgrade through an on-screen message that will appear starting Saturday.

PCmover Express, which normally costs $29.95, will be available for download free of charge starting later this week. Laplink is also discounting its more advanced PCmover Professional for Windows XP by 60%, effective Monday, cutting the price from the usual $59.95 to $23.95.

Windows XP will receive its final security updates on April 8. After that users will face an uncertain future, as cyber criminals are expected to take advantage of the lack of patches to hijack defenseless PCs.

Microsoft cast the offer as another way to help customers ditch XP.

"As the end of support for Windows XP on April 8 nears we're continuing to focus on ensuring customers are aware of the deadline and helping them to migrate to a modern operating system such as Windows 8.1," said Brandon LeBlanc, a Microsoft marketing communications manager, in a blog post Monday.

More to the point, the move was a response to scathing criticism customers leveled at Microsoft after LeBlanc proposed four weeks ago that they help others upgrade from XP or assist them in picking out a new PC running Windows 8.1. Those users pointed out that what Microsoft called an "upgrade" required people to back up the hard drive before wiping it clean, then restore their data and settings, and reinstall all their applications. "There is a major problem with [Microsoft's] suggestion. You (Microsoft) have made Windows 8 and 8.1 incapable of upgrading from Windows XP," noted someone identified as "nephilim" in a comment added to LeBlanc's Feb. 7 plea for help. "I simply can't upgrade anyone, including myself, to Windows 8. It's impossible."