Microsoft ups product support to 10 years

Microsoft Corp. will institute a new product lifecycle policy this month that extends support for Microsoft products to a minimum of 10 years from the current seven years, the vendor said at the recent Tech Ed conference.

In addition to extending the support period, the updated policy provides increased support for IT infrastructure security assistance, Microsoft said. The announcement in a keynote presentation by Microsoft corporate vice-president Andy Lees was welcomed with applause.

Microsoft currently offers five years of mainstream support and two years of extended support. Under the new policy, which starts June 1, customers will still get at least five years of mainstream support after the date a product ships, but the support period now automatically extends for two years after the next version of the product ships. This could result in more than five years of mainstream support.

Under the new policy, after mainstream supports ends, Microsoft will provide extended support for five years or for two years after the second successor product ships, whichever results in the longest support period, the vendor said. By “second successor” Microsoft refers to the second major upgrade of the product.

“This is designed so that we never have less than two years for a customer to migrate to the next version,” said Peter Houston, a senior director at Microsoft. “Customers can now predict in advance how long they are going to get support even if they don’t know when the next product is coming out.”

“With something like SQL Server 2005 the challenge was that without this updated policy, mainstream support for SQL Server 2000 might have ended before customers were able to migrate,” he said.

SQL Server is Microsoft’s database product. SQL Server 2005 is due out in the first half of next year. Mainstream support for the current SQL Server 2000 software was set to end on Dec. 31, 2005, potentially giving customers only months to upgrade before the end of mainstream support.

Mainstream support includes all the support options and programs Microsoft offers, such as no-charge incident support, paid incident support, support charged on an hourly basis, support for warranty claims and hotfix support.

Having extended support is an announcement that has at least one Canadian customer feeling positive.

“I think it shows that Microsoft is committed to its customers,” said Jesse Breaker, manager, technology infrastructure with Vancouver, B.C.-based Inventor Solutions, an IT services company. He explained that it’s logistically difficult to upgrade its servers and desktop operating systems the exact day that a new version is available, and the fact that Microsoft is extending its support will give Microsoft customers more time and breathing space.

Users of business and developer products currently in the extended support phase may also benefit from the change on a per-product basis, Microsoft said. Any support policy changes take into account product road maps, customer migration needs and industry standards and requirements, the vendor said.

Microsoft has faced repeated criticism about its product lifecycle policy. In October 2002 the Redmond, Wash., vendor revised its product lifecycle and applied it to products released after that date as well as select operating systems that were released earlier, including Windows 2000 and Windows XP.

The October 2002 change did not apply to Windows 1998. Days before Microsoft was to end support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition early this year, the vendor, as a result of user revolt, decided to extend the life of the products in the extended support phase.

The product support extension is an acknowledgement of the fact that customers aren’t upgrading products as fast as they used to, said Peter Pawlak, a senior analyst at Directions of Microsoft Inc., a research firm in Kirkland, Wash.

“Products aren’t turning over as much as they used to, so Microsoft finally decided that they would just have to move up the general support time,” he said.

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