Microsoft is to institute a new product lifecycle policy next month that extends support for its products to a minimum of 10 years from seven years.
The updated policy also provides increased support for IT infrastructure security assistance, Microsoft said at its Tech Ed conference in San Diego.
The announcement in a keynote presentation by corporate vice president Andy Lees was welcomed with applause from the audience.
Microsoft currently offers five years of mainstream support and two years of extended support. Under the new policy, which starts 1 June, customers will still get at least five years of mainstream support after the date a product ships, but the support period now automatically extends for two years after the next version of the product ships. This could result in more than five years of mainstream support.
Under the new policy, after mainstream supports ends, Microsoft will provide extended support for five years or for two years after the second successor product ships, whichever results in the longest support period. By "second successor" Microsoft refers to the second major upgrade of the product.
"This is designed so that we never have less than two years for a customer to migrate to the next version," said Peter Houston, a senior director at Microsoft. "Customers can now predict in advance how long they are going to get support even if they don't know when the next product is coming out.
"With something like SQL Server 2005 the challenge was that without this updated policy, mainstream support for SQL Server 2000 might have ended before customers were able to migrate," he said.
SQL Server is Microsoft's database product. SQL Server 2005 is due out in the first half of next year. Mainstream support for existing SQL Server 2000 software was set to end on 31 December 2005, potentially giving customers only months to upgrade before the end of mainstream support.
Houston said Windows XP was another issue. Mainstream support for the operating system was set to end on 31 December 2006. The next Windows client, codenamed Longhorn, is expected in 2006, which would give customers little time to migrate within the first support period.
Mainstream support includes all the support options and programs Microsoft offers, such as no-charge incident support, paid incident support, support charged on an hourly basis, support for warranty claims and hotfix support.
In the extended support period, Microsoft still offers all paid support options and security fixes, but will not accept requests for warranty support, design changes or new features. Hotfix support not related to security issues requires a separate Extended Hotfix Support contract.
The updated support lifecycle policy is valid for Microsoft's business and developer products that are in the mainstream support phase as well as future products, the company said. The policy does not apply to consumer, hardware, multimedia and Microsoft Business Solutions products.
"Any business and developer product that is currently under mainstream support will fall under the new policy," Houston said. An example is Windows 2000, he said. Versions of Windows and Office specifically for home use, such as Windows XP Home Edition, do not fall under the policy, he said.
Users of business and developer products in the extended support phase may also benefit from the change on a per-product basis, Microsoft said. Any support policy changes take into account product roadmaps, customer migration needs and industry standards and requirements.
Microsoft has faced repeated criticism about its product lifecycle policy. In October 2002, it revised its product lifecycle and applied it to products released after that date as well as select operating systems that were released earlier, including Windows 2000 and Windows XP.
The October 2002 change did not apply to Windows 1998. Days before Microsoft was to end support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition early this year, it decided to extend the life of the products in the extended support phase after users complained.
The product support extension is an acknowledgement of the fact that customers are not upgrading products as fast as they used to, said Peter Pawlak, a senior analyst at Directions of Microsoft.
"Products aren't turning over as much as they used to, so Microsoft finally decided that they would just have to move up the general support time," he said.
More information on the updated support policy can be found at: http://www.microsoft.com/lifecycle/.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service