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Windows NT, Exchange 5.5 Support Not Extended Under New Policy

Microsoft late Tuesday posted its updated list of product support deadlines in the wake of the announcement of a new 10-year product support lifecycle. The list confirms that Windows NT 4.0 and Exchange Server 5.5 aren't grandfathered into the new program.

Both products were released fewer than 10 years ago, making them theoretically eligible for the new 10-year support schedule unveiled last week, rather than the old seven-year schedule.

Microsoft's rationale for ending NT and Exchange 5.5 support is that the new policy applies only to products that were on mainstream support under the old policy. Windows NT 4.0 Server and Exchange 5.5 Server were both in the extended support phase of the previous policy. SQL Server 7.0, on the other hand, was on mainstream support and is included in the new program.

"Due to the continual advances in software development technologies and methodologies, older products are harder to secure and service than newer products," Peter Houston, Microsoft's senior director for serviceability strategy, said in an e-mail interview. "When formulating this updated policy, our goal was to go back as far as possible while ensuring that we could provide high-quality support for a full 10+ years. Based on careful analysis, we decided that we can deliver customer satisfaction for products that we shipped in the last 5 years."

The deadlines posted Tuesday show no change in support deadlines for several products:

  • Windows NT 4.0 Server support ends Dec. 31.
  • Windows NT 4.0 Workstation support ends June 30.
  • Exchange Server 5.5 support ends Dec. 31, 2005.

    Several key products will enjoy a longer support lifecycle under the new deadlines:

  • Extended support for Windows 2000 Professional now lasts until June 30, 2010.
  • Extended support for Windows 2000 Server now lasts until Dec. 31, 2010.
  • Extended support for SQL Server 7.0 now lasts until at least Dec. 31, 2010.
  • Extended support for Exchange 2000 Server is listed as lasting until Dec. 31, 2013.

    Microsoft has drawn lines in the sand several times before on Windows NT 4.0 support, only to retreat to a new line after customers protested. Microsoft appears to hold a firmer position this time.

    "Microsoft designed Windows NT 4.0 before many of today's security threat models became known, and NT4 has reached a point of architectural obsolescence. Our views on that haven't changed because of the updated policy announcement," Houston said. "We believe it would have been irresponsible to convey a false sense of security by including NT4 in this new policy."

    Industry analysts don't believe Microsoft will back off the Windows NT 4.0 deadline this time. "I think the customers have already screamed a couple of times and gotten a couple of extensions. How many encores can you ask for?" said Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC.

    IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky contends that Microsoft may have made the calculation that Windows NT 4.0 support problems will resolve themselves in time as customers refresh hardware. And, Kusnetzky says, "I think that Microsoft has decided there is a sufficient infrastructure in the industry as a whole for the customers to get most of what they need in terms of NT 4 support from IBM and HP, ISVs and VARs."

    Meanwhile, even if Microsoft does change its mind on Windows NT 4.0 support, analysts at Gartner recommend that customers continue to plan to move away from older technologies well short of the 10-year lifecycle. "Support for device drivers and third-party applications may not be available in the later years of Microsoft's extended support," Gartner analysts wrote in a research note.

    At the same time, Gartner analyst Michael Silver says Microsoft is opening itself to potential embarrassment with its policy toward Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. "The company … plans to release patches to critical NTW4 security holes in the event of exploitation," Silver noted. "If a major corporation or government agency lands on the front pages after a worm shuts it down, for example, Microsoft will be forced to re-think its policy."

    To view the new support deadlines for specific Microsoft products, go here.

  • About the Author

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