How Microsoft

In the first of a three-part series, David DeJean of Computerworldexplains Microsoft Corp.’s product life cycle and how this affectsWindows XP.

The approaching death of Windows XP may upset you, but it shouldn’tcome as a surprise. Microsoft ’s product lifecycle guidelines haveforetold the fate of XP since 2001. In fact, Microsoft has been killingoff one version of a product as it is replaced with another for yearsnow. But this time around, the approaching demise of XP is getting moreattention than, say, the final passing of Windows 2000 .

Why? For a couple of reasons: XP is the most widely used operatingsystem on the planet, and its long-delayed successor, Windows Vista ,is not proving to be universally popular. The companies that make upthe enterprise market for Windows are dragging their feet aboutupgrading, and on the consumer side there are signs of a rebellionagainst Vista.
Microsoft has already made changes in its timetables: Last year, thecompany extended the sales lifecycle — the time during which PCmanufacturers and system builders could sell computers with XPinstalled — to June 30, 2008. It will stop selling XP altogether onJanuary 31, 2009.

Microsoft will stop selling XP long before it stops supporting it.You may be able to run XP for as long as you want , but before too longyou may not be able to buy a legitimate copy of XP to run.

Microsoft’s product lifecycle guidelines grew out of two sets ofneeds: Microsoft’s need to make a profit, and its customers’(particularly enterprise customers) needs for some certainty about theproducts they were committing to.

The policy was an attempt at transparency, a promise that newproducts would be supported for a definite period and that as they agedMicrosoft wouldn’t just abandon them. Instead, the company wouldwithdraw support in a series of scheduled steps that corresponded tothe pace of technological change, allowing customers time to transitionto newer products.

The problem is that what sounds like a promise to some (particularlyenterprise customers) can sound like a threat to others — particularlyconsumers. And they’re not taking it well.

This incipient consumer rebellion is a relatively new phenomenon,even in the short history of personal computers. For most of the ’90s,Microsoft couldn’t bring out new products fast enough to satisfycustomers. Computing technology was exploding, and Windows explodedalong with it, from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 to Windows 98 to Windows98 Second Edition to Windows Millennium Edition. PC sales boomed andWindows users raced to upgrade to the latest version.

But that binge left Microsoft with a huge hangover. As the newdecade started, it was supporting a tangle of versions and upgrades.Then the Internet bubble burst and PC sales slowed. New products likeWindows ME weren’t as well received as the older ones. Microsoft neededto reduce its support liabilities and create a profit plan. The productlifecycle guidelines were the solution.

Check this blog Tuesday April 22 to find out more about the three phases in the life span of Microsoft’s products.

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