Microsoft sets support cutoff dates for Windows NT

Microsoft Corp. is telling customers that support for its five-year-old Windows NT Server 4.0 operating system will begin to be phased out starting Jan. 1, 2003.

On that date, customers will no longer be able to request and obtain Quick Fix Engineering, or hot fixes, at no charge. They still will be able to get them, but only for a fee, according to information posted late last week on the company’s Web site. (The company also posted an online FAQ about the decision.)

A year later, on Jan. 1, 2004, hot fixes will no longer be available, even for a fee. Also on that date, premier and pay-per-incident support will no longer be available.

Several users reached by Computerworld (U.S.) said those support end dates shouldn’t present a hardship for their companies.

“We’re in the process of converting all of our NT servers to Windows 2000 servers. We’re roughly halfway there, so I don’t believe that will a problem for us,” said Roger Gareipy, chief information technologist at Air Products & Chemicals Inc. in Allentown, Pa. “We understand that Microsoft’s approach is, when they release a new version, they generally support one version back in terms of active support, so we’ve been working our upgrades within that approach.”

Microsoft released Windows NT Server 4.0 in September 1996. Earlier this fall, Microsoft announced that volume licensing for the popular server operating system was being discontinued, effective October 1, due to a “steady increase in demand for Windows 2000 and a decrease in demand for NT 4.”

At the time, the company said it wouldn’t announce the support end date until later in the year. Tom Bittman, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., had said the support end date would matter more to end users than the volume-licensing discontinuance. He also said that users would need “plenty of warning,” in the range of three to four years.

But users reached Dec. 10 said the Microsoft support discontinuance timetable should give them adequate time to prepare for any changes.

“You get forced into doing some upgrades, but you’ve got to move forward, too,” said Wayne Richards, a senior technical support analyst at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio. Richards said he understands that vendors eventually must discontinue support. “You can’t support everything, and [Microsoft was] getting stretched thin a bit on the number of operating systems they were supporting,” he said.

One CIO who asked not to be identified said he thinks Microsoft gave users adequate time because the vendor “learned something with the pushback they got with the licensing.”

Users complained vociferously when Microsoft announced changes to its volume licensing and upgrade programs. Microsoft subsequently changed some of the effective dates of the new program, acknowledging that customer feedback had prompted the company to delay some of the changes.

Microsoft now supports three server operating systems: Windows 3.5x, Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000. Support for Windows 3.5x is scheduled to stop at the end of this year. The support end date for Windows 2000 has yet to be announced.

Bob O’Brien, a Microsoft group product manager, said the company “proactively sought customer feedback” in deciding on the support end date for Windows NT Server 4.0. “What we have found from our customers is that the dates we have published line up with their expectations on the support lifecycle of this product,” he said.

O’Brien said Microsoft will take a similar tack with its Windows 2000 Server customers, although he doesn’t expect any announcement to be made before the second half of next year.

“Reasonable, rational timeframes seem to be the right thing to do,” O’Brien said, adding that Microsoft’s server group is trying “to get much more crisp on what the dates and lifecycle expectations customers have for our products.”

The successor to Windows 2000 Server, Windows .Net Server, is due to ship in the first half of 2002.

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