Microsoft buys user time with extension

Microsoft buys user time with extension

User reaction has been generally upbeat after Microsoft announced recently that it plans to extend the support phase for business and developer products to a minimum of 10 years.

The support policy updates the timetable the software maker set in October 2002. The old plan called for five years of mainstream support and two years of extended support. Under the updated policy, there will be a minimum of five years of mainstream support followed by five years of extended support.

“It is very welcome news. The big challenge we face is the logistical issue of upgrading 30,000 devices across more than 5000 locations,” vice-president of technology, strategy and operations at RadioShack, Ron Cook, said. “It is a huge undertaking. When we have to do an upgrade solely due to the product ending its support life rather than technical reasons, it is a big expense. The extra support time will allow us to schedule upgrades for the right reasons.”

But the new mainstream and extended support policy would apply only to software released during the past five years, Microsoft’s senior director of servicing strategy, Peter Houston, said.

The new plan would not cover Windows NT 4.0 Server or Exchange 5.5, he said. The extended support period for those two products was due to expire at the end of this year.

The mainstream support phase provides for no-charge incident support, support for warranty claims and hot-fix support, as well as paid per-incident support and support charged on an hourly basis. Extended support essentially includes the paid options — with the exception of security hot fixes, which are still free during that phase.

Some customers who have yet to migrate off older products may consider paid extension options from Microsoft or third-party vendors, unless they decide to run the products unsupported.

Several users said they had been forced to keep older versions of Windows and other Microsoft products as a result of application dependencies involving software built by third-party vendors.

However, Houston said older products were not as serviceable due to advances in software development technologies and methodologies.

He said that products shipping eight to 10 years ago were designed well before many of the most serious security-threat models had surfaced.

“We have been working with customers for quite a while to get them to migrate off of NT because we have concerns over our ability to provide security for NT 4,” Houston said. “We believe that NT 4 has reached the point of architectural obsolescence.”

He said Microsoft would be sending the message that it thought it could secure NT 4 if the company retroactively applied the new 10-year support policy. “We believe that would not be responsible for us to give that false sense of security,” Houston said.

Several users expressed support for Microsoft’s decision and said that they have been working to complete migrations off of NT Server.

“For us, information security is more important than extending the NT life cycle,” an executive vice president in IT at KeyCorp, Bob Dutile, said. “We prefer working off a more secure core code base and concur with Microsoft that replacement of NT has been the superior option. We expect to continue to lower our cost of managing patch administration as we complete our replacement of NT.”

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