Microsoft cuts price of DST patches for older software

But it says NT, Exchange 5.5 fixes 'too difficult' to deliver

Microsoft slashed the fee it's charging some customers for daylight-saving time (DST) fixes to a tenth of last year's price because it needed "to do the right thing" as the time change deadline approaches, a company executive said yesterday.

A new federal law takes effect this month that moves the start of DST up by several weeks and pushes it back a week in November. Clocks will have to be moved forward an hour on March 11 instead of in early April, as has been the case in recent years. That's left companies scrambling for software fixes that change the preset DST changes hard-coded in operating systems and applications, including every version of Windows except for the just-released Vista.

"Unlike Y2k, which was a bug, many companies and parts of the government just didn't blow the horn on the impact the changes would have," said M3 Sweatt, chief of staff of the Windows core development group. Microsoft products still getting mainstream support -- meaning software within the first five years of its release -- have received free patches. But operating systems and applications now getting what Microsoft dubs extended support receive only security fixes for free: Corporate customers who want non-security patches must fork over large fees to Microsoft.

Among the titles in that extended support category are Windows 2000, Exchange Server 2000 and Outlook 2000, the e-mail and calendar client included with Office 2000.

For users running that software, Microsoft charges $4,000 for all of its DST fixes. For that amount, customers can apply the patches to all systems in their organizations, including branch offices and affiliates, said Sweatt. "All they can't do is redistribute them," he said.

The $4,000 fee is a dramatic price cut from the $40,000-per-product charge that Microsoft set in 2006. "We believe we had to do the right thing for our customers, so we did something on the fee," explained Sweatt. "There is a cost involved in producing this, but we're not making money on [the $4,000]. It recovers just a part of the cost of development and providing support."

That largess, however, doesn't extend to users still relying on even older Microsoft software, namely those products that have rolled off the support list entirely. Windows NT, for instance, which exited extended support more than two years ago, must be modified manually, as do other unsupported apps affected by the DST changes, including Exchange Server 5.5, which lost support in January 2006, and Outlook 97, which lost support in February 2002.

Microsoft will not be writing a fix for those products. "It's just too difficult" to support obsolete software, said Sweatt. "It would involve significant" resources and apply to a very small group. Microsoft has previously urged those users to update to newer software.

As an option, Microsoft points some of those users to a support document posted last May and updated again Wednesday, in particular the Time Zone Editor, or tzedit.exe, utility linked from the document. Microsoft states that tzedit.exe works on all versions of Windows.

There are no similar tools for aged Exchange Server or Outlook products, however.

Windows Vista and Outlook 2007, released in January to retail customers and in November to business, do not need to be updated, since they were coded after Congress passed the 2005 Energy Policy Act that revised DST's start and stop dates.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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