Microsoft resumes support for products

Since announcing its plans to stop sales and support for some of its older operating systems by the end of the year, Microsoft Corp. has changed its tune.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software firm decided last month to discontinue distributing several older products as part of the terms of its legal settlement with Sun Microsystems Inc. in a dispute over the Java virtual system.

But in early January Microsoft announced it will extend the support of these operating systems until June 2006 in order to bring Windows 98 SE into compliance with its current product support lifecycle policy.

That policy provides support for seven years as opposed to the four the company used to offer. As part of the extension, the company will continue to provide paid phone support and will review security issues and issue hotfixes for Windows 98 and Windows ME until 2006.

The products to be retired incorporate a version of Microsoft virtual machine that the company is no longer able to distribute as part of the settlement, according to Microsoft. This includes versions of Windows 98 except Windows 98 Second Edition; Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition; all Office 2000 editions; Office XP Developer edition and SQL Server 7.

According to Microsoft, the decision to extend support was in part in order to accommodate worldwide users still dependent on the OSes. The extension also gives customers a clear date of support conclusion, and gives customers extra time to retire the platforms and upgrade to newer systems, Microsoft said.

“We certainly understand that Windows 98 is still being used in the marketplace and that is one of the driving factors to extend support,” said Elliot Katz, senior marketing manager for Microsoft Windows with Microsoft Canada Co. in Mississauga, Ont.

At the same time, Microsoft is actively promoting an upgrade to Windows XP, Katz said. “Windows XP gives you the most functionality and the most benefit you would get out of an operating system and also provides the most secure environment. That is what we are working with our customers to understand.”

The companies settled a three-year-old breach of contract lawsuit in January 2001 that Sun had filed against Microsoft. Sun, creator of Java, had accused Microsoft of violating a licensing and distribution agreement by distributing a version of Java that was not compatible with Sun’s. As part of the settlement, Microsoft paid Sun US$20 million and agreed to a plan to retire products that included its allegedly incompatible Java distribution. Java is a programming language that allows developers to write applications that can run on any computer regardless of its operating system.

Affected by the news are the more than 80 per cent of organizations, which according to Ottawa-based IT consulting firm AssetMetrix Inc., are still using Windows 98 or Windows 95 within the corporate environment. AssetMetrix reported that of the approximately 670 companies polled an average of 39 per cent of PCs were still running the older operating systems.

By the end of the year Microsoft will release updated versions of some of its products without the virtual machine, so that it can continue to distribute them. This includes the Workstation, Server and Enterprise Server editions of Windows NT 4.0; Office XP Professional Edition with FrontPage; Small Business Server 2000; ISA Server 2000 and Publisher 2002, Microsoft said.

While some organizations may not wish to change, there comes a point when it becomes unfair for users to expect continued support, noted Warren Shiau, a software analyst for IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

Microsoft Canada has been actively encouraging the portion of its installed base remaining on obsolete product versions to upgrade to newer versions, Shiau said, so users recognize that it is time to upgrade. Waiting for Longhorn OS release in a couple of year’s time isn’t really the issue when an organization is still within a Win98/NT4/SQL Server 7 type environment, he added.

Earlier this year, Microsoft and Sun agreed to extend another deadline related to the settlement. The agreement allowed Microsoft to continue supporting its virtual machine until Sept. 30, to give its customers more time to stop using the software. However Microsoft decided to phase out the products now.

In an open letter to customers, Sun executive vice president Jonathan Schwartz railed against Microsoft’s move, calling it premature for Microsoft to discontinue its Java-based products.

“It’s a lesson in how a company with legendary market dominance can lose sight of customer priorities and force an unnecessary transition on to a customer base already paralyzed with viruses and security breaches,” Schwartz wrote on the Sun Web site.

The agreement between Sun and Microsoft gives customers a graceful transition path to a future platform, that extends far beyond Dec. 23. Moreover, Sun has offered, and will continue to offer, a license to Java technology that would spare Microsoft any transition whatsoever so long as Microsoft maintains compatibility, and a commitment to the preservation of the very same standards igniting the world of Web services,” Schwartz offered.

According to Microsoft, users can continue to buy licenses for the products, for example to install it on more computers from a current CD or a corporate network. Though the products will no longer be available in the channel or for download from Microsoft’s Developer Network (MSDN), current users will still be able to use them.