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Microsoft Lays Out Support Lifecycle, Policy

Microsoft Corp. introduced consistency and predictability into its formerly haphazard product lifecycle support on Tuesday by laying out a policy and creating a single Web site where customers can check on the support status of all Microsoft software. "Through our customer focus groups, Microsoft learned that customers do not have a clear understanding of vendor lifecycle plans. Instead they rely on expectations of how often new releases occur, and react to retirement announcements," Lori Moore, corporate vice president of Microsoft product support services, said in a Q&A on Microsoft's Web site explaining the new policy. IDC analyst Al Gillen put the need for the policy a little more bluntly. "As a customer, you couldn't tell what the lifecycle was on a particular product. It was kind of hodgepodge. They had moving windows of support and different places to find information," Gillen says.

The basics of Microsoft's Support Lifecycle policy:

  • It applies to most products currently available through retail purchase or volume licensing and future release products.
  • Business and development software will be supported for five years from the date of a product's general availability.
  • Customers can purchase extended support for business and development software for an additional two years with one caveat. They must be on the latest service pack or the next-to-latest service pack, if that service pack is still supported.
  • Security hotfixes will be available for free throughout the full seven years, including the extended support phase, for business and developer products.
  • Consumer, multimedia and hardware products get mainstream support for five years but no extended support.
  • Consumer products that have a new version each year (Money, Encarta, Street & Trips) have three years of mainstream support and no extended support.
  • Most products will receive at least eight years of online self-help support.
  • The timeline for specific product support will be maintained at http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle.

    Enterprises that have support needs that don't end conveniently after seven years will have other options. "Custom support relationships may include assisted support and hotfix-level support, and may extend beyond 10 years from the date a product becomes generally available," Microsoft's Moore says in the Q&A. Additionally, Microsoft expects that partners will offer support beyond the extended support phase.

    Microsoft defines the mainstream phase as including no-charge incidents, paid incidents, hourly charges, warranty claims and hotfix assistance. Extended support may include hourly charges and paid hotfix support. Customers who want extended hotfix help during the two year extended phase must commit to it by purchasing an extended hotfix contract within 90 days after the mainstream period ends. In other words, you can't save money by waiting to see if you need actually need a hotfix during the extended support phase. After three months, any problems requiring a hotfix are the customer's problem, under the new policy.

    The new policies represent a change in Microsoft's service pack support. Previously, Microsoft supported only the latest service pack. Now Microsoft is supporting the immediately preceding service pack for up to 12 months after the release of the latest service pack. Non-security hotfixes will not be created for the immediately preceding service pack unless they are specifically requested by customers. Microsoft strongly urges customers to get on the latest service pack as soon as possible.

    Although some observers contend Microsoft is using the support policy like Licensing 6.0 as another stick to force customers into buying the latest software, IDC's Gillen sees the move as unrelated to Microsoft's revenue-enhancement efforts. To Gillen Microsoft is simply filling in a long overdue hole in its policies.

    For more information about support schedules for major enterprise software, see the related story: Support Deadlines Loom for Exchange 5.5, SQL 7.0, NT 4.0.

  • About the Author

    Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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