Microsoft gooses Windows XP's custom support prices as deadline nears

'Seems punitive,' says Gartner, which cites costs of up to $5M for first year of enterprise after-retirement support

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And it's not like Microsoft sprung the retirement date of XP on customers: It's been hammering the April 2014 deadline for years.

As far back as June 2011, a Microsoft manager claimed it was "time to move on" from XP, while even earlier that year an executive on the Internet Explorer team belittled XP as the "lowest common denominator" when he explained why the OS wouldn't run the then-new IE9.

But the large price increases will bust budgets of enterprises that had expected the older pricing model -- especially those with Software Assurance, who anticipated a cap on custom support costs. "Not having any cap, I think that caught a lot of people by surprise," said Silver.

In their report, Silver and Kleynhans said that the increase "seems punitive."

Silver was somewhat mystified by the jump in costs. One explanation: Microsoft wants to turn custom support into a money maker, rather than simply recover its costs, which has been its philosophy in the past.

"End of the day, it could be a revenue generator," said Silver. "But there's nothing that they've said that proves this is no longer cost recovery. Still, if they create the security fix [for Windows XP] for just one person, they can give it to millions, and make money on it."

And companies running XP are not in a strong negotiating position. "Microsoft has the pricing power," said Silver. "In terms of companies that provide fixes to an OS, the vendor has the monopoly."

Rather than pay Microsoft for custom support in 2014 and beyond, Silver advised enterprises to spend money this year to migrate as many XP systems as possible to a supported operating system. Failing that, IT administrators should consider bringing all XP clients inside the network perimeter to lower the risk of Web-based attacks, or move the applications those XP PCs are running onto a supported server platform.

"But none of these are easy or inexpensive," Silver admitted.

And for all the talk that XP has been a special case -- supported for more than 12 years, two years longer than other editions of Windows because of the launch delay of its expected successor, Vista -- Silver said history could easily repeat itself in early 2020, when Windows 7 exits free support.

Windows 7, which debuted in October 2009, looks to be the next XP, an OS that is so successful that businesses hang on to it until the very end.

"Microsoft may be trying to train [enterprises] with these high custom support prices, but I don't think [enterprises] will really change," said Silver, who expected to reprise his advice, the next time about Windows 7, before the decade's out.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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