Microsoft has sustained criticism for trying to force turnover on its operating systems by dropping technical support on software versions after only four years.
New product lifecycle guidelines released by Microsoft last week will see Windows 95 drop off the support map at the end of 2001. MS DOS x.xx, and Windows 3.xx will cop a one year reprieve, albeit with online support only, and Windows 98/98 SE and NT 4.xx will be kept on until December 2004.
Laurie White, product marketing manager at Toshiba, says it's no secret that Microsoft has been moving towards a paid-only technical support model. The vendor issued a statement last year saying that as of January 1, 2001, Microsoft would no longer directly license Windows 95 through its direct OEM channel, which includes all major PC vendors such as Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and IBM.
White says there is no doubt Microsoft is telling consumers it's "time to move along", by making support for old versions more expensive. However, the move is a slight to the second-hand PC market which sells cheap, lower-functionality units with older software versions to users who require simple applications such as word processing and basic Web access.
"Microsoft's support offer is little more than a novelty," says Simon Mercer of second-hand PC dealer Notebooks Australia. "Nine times out of 10 they'll find a sneaky way of billing the client. The free support may be a great selling technique but it doesn't help too much in reality." This is a point to which even the OEMs subscribe. White says OEMs are forced to rectify "bugs" in new Windows versions, of which Windows 2000 contained 64,000, because the process is too costly through Microsoft.
From a PC manufacturing point of view, White says Toshiba would rather "move along" as well, as the updated operating systems take better advantage of new hardware. Toshiba has a 12-month reprieve on its top-end business notebooks before adding advanced benefits and features and, with DVD and plug-and-play becoming standard elements in Windows 2000, White says Microsoft's "prod" to consumers is a practical, though reluctant shove in the right direction.
Paul Roworth, Microsoft Australia's senior product marketing manager, desktop windows, feels the lifecycle guidelines will not be a drastic change for organisations. The vendor is merely bringing structure and predictability to existing purchasing trends. "Typically it's the corporate asking for this so they can plan a little more accurately than they have in the past," he says.
Previously, Microsoft had no set strategy for products exiting the market. Roworth says support for a product was simply phased out when sales dropped below a certain quota.
Microsoft is working on the premise of a three-year typical timeframe, a period the vendor calls a "mainstream phase". A customer seeking versions beyond this period will have the option to order them from the price list, however licences are only available in the authorised OEM distribution channel and through downgrade rights available in volume licensing programs. In the fourth year, a customer still has access to premier support, paid incident support, paid hotfix support and online support information. In the fifth year, this is replaced by online support only.
Microsoft lifecycle guidelines can be accessed at www.microsoft.com/windows/ lifecycle.asp