Microsoft extends support period for Windows NT 4.0

Windows NT Server users who were worried that they might be running an unsupported operating system next year got some welcome news from Microsoft Corp.

A Microsoft spokesperson said this week that pay-per-incident and premier support for Windows NT Server 4.0 will run through Dec. 31, 2004. Nonsecurity hot fixes, however, will no longer be available as of Jan. 1, 2004.

Bob O’Brien, a group product manager in Microsoft’s Windows server division, today said that many Windows NT Server 4.0 customers have been planning migrations but didn’t expect to complete the upgrades by the end of this year, when the extended support phase for Windows NT Server 4.0 was due to end.

O’Brien estimated that “somewhere between 35 per cent and 40 per cent” of the Windows server operating system deployments are NT 4.0. “Common sense dictates that if you want to have a relationship with these customers for the next seven to 10 years, you don’t ignore” their needs, he said.

But O’Brien cautioned that the decision to extend support is “not intended to send a message to customers that they should hold off and wait until the last minute to plan their migrations.”

Many Windows NT Server 4.0 users will find benefits in the new Windows Server 2003 operating system due out in April, he said, particularly customers looking to do server consolidation. The Windows System Resource Manager allows IT managers to allocate CPU and memory on a per-application basis, so they can run multiple applications on a single instance of the Windows server operating system.

O’Brien said that if a customer is already in the midst of planning or deploying Windows Server 2000, “that’s a fine place to go.”

Tom Bittman, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said that Windows NT Server 4.0 has been around a long time and that Microsoft needs to do the marketing work to convince people to move. He estimated that at least 50 per cent of the installed base of the Windows server operating system is still NT 4.0.

Bittman said Microsoft “might have underestimated the slow rate of migration away from NT” when it made its support phaseout decisions for Windows NT Server 4.0. “Even though the deadline continues to shift, I think [users] need to take the deadline seriously, because they don’t want to be caught without support,” he said.

Microsoft set the timetable for the phaseout of support for Windows NT Server 4.0 last October. Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said the public announcement gave customers a chance to provide feedback to Microsoft, which, in turn, responded with the change in plans.

In a report issued last February, IDC projected that a third of the Windows server operating system installed base would be NT 4.0 at the end of 2002, Gillen said. “The ones that are left are going to be harder to move,” he said, adding that users should do whatever makes the “right business sense” for them. That may differ on a company-by-company basis, he said.

“If they’re getting good service, if their applications are acceptable and nothing is driving them to upgrade the operating system or applications, there’s no reason for them to move,” Gillen said. But those users who have been highly dependent on Microsoft for support may want to consider an upgrade, he said.