Microsoft standardizes product support plans

Microsoft Corp.'s decision, announced yesterday, to standardize the support time frame for most of its products to a minimum of five years should help corporate IT professionals trying to do some long-term planning.

Andy Erlandson, director of Microsoft's product support services division, said the company received considerable customer feedback about the need for more clear direction on its support time frames. Focus groups indicated they wanted three to five years of support for the client operating system and five to seven years of support for the server operating system, he said.

"So we decided, let's be generous on the client side and make it consistent with the server side," Erlandson said.

Microsoft also decided to make support consistent across all of its product lines, except for consumer products such as Money and Encarta, which have new versions released each year. Those products will receive three years of mainstream support.

For the rest of the product lines, the newly announced support road map calls for Microsoft to provide mainstream support for a minimum of five years from the date of a product's general availability, with an option for a customer to buy extended support for an additional two years.

"These are minimum dates," said Erlandson. "For any product, we may choose to extend the date."

In general, mainstream support includes the various options and programs customers have access to today, such as no-charge and paid incident support, support for warranty claims and hot-fix support to address specific problems, which is sometimes referred to as quick-fix engineering. Extended support can include support charged on an hourly basis or paid hot-fix support. In order for customers to be eligible for the latter, they must buy an extended hot-fix support contract within 90 days after the mainstream support period ends.

In addition to mainstream and extended support, an online self-help option will be available for at least eight years from the general availability date for most products. The general availability date will be determined by adding three months to the date that Microsoft releases a product to manufacturing, according to Erlandson.

Information about the support end dates for individual products can be found online at Microsoft's Web site.

Before yesterday's announcement, one key issue looming for corporate customers was the support end date for Windows NT 4. Erlandson said Microsoft received lots of feedback from customers concerned that mainstream support was scheduled to end Dec. 31, with the extended support phase set to expire at the end of next year.

"All that meant that customers who needed nonsecurity hot-fix support in 2003 would have to pay for it," Erlandson said. "We've decided, with this announcement, we're going to waive those fees in 2003 for NT 4 Server."

Several customers had asked Microsoft not to charge for hot-fix support in 2003, he said. But the mainstream and extended support phases for Windows NT 4 Server will end on Dec. 31, 2003, he said.

Another long-term issue for corporate customers is the support end date for the Windows 2000 Professional client operating system. Many Windows 2000 users have no plans to move to Windows XP and are waiting for its successor, code-named Longhorn, which isn't scheduled to ship until the middle of 2004 at the earliest.

Prior to yesterday's announcement, mainstream support for Windows 2000 Professional was scheduled to end March 31, 2003, with the extended period expiring a year later. In essence, that would mean that a corporate user might have to use an unsupported product for several months, if not more, while waiting for Longhorn.

The new support plan, however, means that mainstream support for Windows 2000 Professional will run until March 31, 2005, and extended support will last until March 31, 2007, Erlandson said.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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