Microsoft sets five-year limit on support

Corporate IT managers planning for the long term received good news from Microsoft last week, when the software maker clarified how long it would provide support for its products.

          Corporate IT managers planning for the long term received good news from Microsoft last week, when the software maker clarified how long it would provide support for its products.

          For most products, Microsoft vowed to provide support for at least five years.

          But Microsoft didn't extend the support end date for Windows NT 4 Server beyond the end of next year. That could put some corporate users at risk, according to Mike Silver, an analyst at Gartner in Stamford, Connecticut. Silver says Gartner had expected Microsoft to extend that date.

          Instead, Microsoft merely waived the fees that were due to be charged next year for nonsecurity hot-fix support, which is designed to address specific customer problems. Mainstream support for Windows NT 4 Server is set to end December 31, and the extended support phase, which typically carries a fee, is due to expire at the end of next year.

          For users still running scores of Windows NT 4 servers, that may not provide enough time to upgrade. Tom Pane, vice president of technology at AnnTaylor Stores, says the New York-based retailer has more than 90 servers running Windows NT 4 and he doesn't anticipate being able to migrate all of them by the end of next year. Pane says those servers have been running for more than a year without problems, but "of course we would like more time."

          With regard to other products, Microsoft heard its users. Andy Erlandson, director of Microsoft's product support services, says the company received considerable customer feedback about the need for more clear direction on its support time frames. Focus groups indicated they wanted three to five years of support for the client operating system and five to seven years for the server operating system, Erlandson says. "So we decided, 'Let's be generous on the client side and make it consistent with the server side,' " he says.

          Microsoft also decided to make support consistent across its product lines, with the exception of consumer products such as Money and Encarta, which will get three years of mainstream support.

          The rest of the products will receive mainstream support for a minimum of five years from the date of a product's general availability, with an option for a user to buy extended support for two more years.

          "These are minimum dates," says Erlandson. "For any product, we may choose to extend the date."

          Silver says Gartner is urging clients to pressure other vendors to develop product support guidelines similar to Microsoft's new ones. "This gives [users] a great way to at least have an understanding of the risk that they're going to hit at different times," he says.

          One long-term planning problem that had been looming for Microsoft users was the support end date for the Windows 2000 Professional client operating system. Companies that upgraded to Windows 2000 typically have no plans to jump to Windows XP, and some are waiting for its successor, code-named Longhorn, which isn't due to ship until mid-2004 at the earliest.

          Prior to last week, mainstream support for Windows 2000 Professional was scheduled to end March 31, 2003, with the extended support phase expiring on March 31, 2004. In essence, that would have meant that a corporate user risked running an unsupported product for several months, if not more, while waiting for Longhorn.

          The new support plan, however, means that mainstream support for Windows 2000 Professional will run until March 31, 2005, and extended support will last until March 31, 2007, Erlandson says.

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