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Microsoft Support Changes: Good for Windows 10, Bad for Office

Microsoft recently announced some support policy changes that bode well for users running Windows 10, but less so for those running the Office productivity suite.

For organizations struggling with "Windows as a Service," where two "semiannual channel" major operating system feature updates arrive per year (in the spring and fall), there's good news. Microsoft added six months of product life to the Enterprise and Education editions of Windows 10 versions 1607, 1703 and 1709. The revised end-of-support dates are shown in the following table:

[Click on image for larger view.] Extended end-of-support dates for Windows 10 versions. (Source: Feb. 1 Microsoft announcement)

Presumably, the old end-of-support dates remain the same for Windows 10 Pro and Home edition users.

In November, Microsoft had extended the life of Windows 10 version 1511 by six months. The explanation for the extension back then was that organizations were still getting used to Microsoft's Windows as a Service approach, where new operating system features arrive more frequently. Under this scheme, organizations must hop to the next "channel" release after 18 months or risk running unsupported OSes that don't get security updates.

It seems organizations are still having problems adjusting to Microsoft's faster release cycles with Windows 10. Microsoft also indicated that it will roll out a new support program for organizations that are not able to meet these new end-of-service deadlines, but the support program will entail additional costs. Here's Microsoft's description:

We will also offer additional paid servicing options for Windows 10 Enterprise and Education releases starting with Windows 10 version 1607. For more information, contact your Microsoft account team.

No details about these paid servicing options were provided in the announcement.

Windows 10 LTSC
Microsoft also announced that the next long-term servicing channel (LTSC) of Windows 10 will arrive "in the fall of 2018." It'll arrive concurrently with the fall semiannual channel release of Windows 10 and will have similar features. Typically, though, the LTSC versions lack frequently updated apps, such as Microsoft's preinstalled apps (the Edge browser, Cortana, Store, et cetera).

No details about what's coming with the next LTSC release were provided but Microsoft curiously explained that "this new release will also add support for the latest generations of processors, per the standard silicon support policy." It's not clear what those standard silicon policies are. Microsoft had once proposed truncating Windows support for Intel Core sixth-generation "Skylake" processors, but it later rescinded that policy.

Microsoft conceives of LTSC as an option for organizations that can't tolerate frequent updates. Each LTSC release has five years of "mainstream support" followed by five years of "extended support," which Microsoft now calls its "Fixed Lifecycle Policy." It used to be Microsoft's traditional support policy, but now Microsoft expects most organizations to want to follow its newer semiannual channel release approach for Windows 10, which has 18 months of support.

Microsoft's LTSC releases seem to be following a somewhat unpredictable pattern. The first LTSC release was Windows 10 version 1507 in July 2015, according to Microsoft's Release Information page. The next LTSC release was Windows 10 version 1607 in August 2016. Microsoft seems to have skipped an LTSC release in 2017, so these LTSC releases don't seem to follow a fixed pattern.

Office 2019
The news is slightly more alarming with regard to future Office support, including Office 365 ProPlus and the coming perpetual-license Office 2019 product.

Microsoft plans to release Office 2019, its next "perpetual-license" productivity suite, in the second half of 2018, with previews appearing "in the second quarter of 2018." That schedule seems a bit faster than what had been announced back in November. Office 2019 will only be supported on Windows 10, Windows 10 Enterprise edition LTSC and "the next LTSC release of Windows Server."

Most importantly for IT pros is that Microsoft is planning to permit installations of Office 2019 only through its "click-to-run" streaming technology. There will be no MSI install files provided for Office 2019, although "we will continue to provide MSI for Office Server products," Microsoft indicated. Office Online Server is on-premises software used for hosting Office Web applications in an organization.

More bad news for Office 2019 users concerns its truncated support. Office 2019 won't follow the traditional Fixed Lifecycle Support policy as expected (that is, five years of mainstream support and five years of extended support). Instead, it'll have an extended support phase that's reduced by three years. Here's Microsoft's bulleted explanation:

  • Office 2019 will provide 5 years of mainstream support and approximately 2 years of extended support. This is an exception to our Fixed Lifecycle Policy to align with the support period for Office 2016. Extended support will end 10/14/2025.

  • There is no change to the support term for existing versions of Office.

Microsoft's announcement didn't explain why the extended support for the unreleased Office 2019 had been shortened.

Microsoft's out-of-the-blue Office support restrictions and exceptions have been seen before. Last April, Microsoft announced that all perpetual-license Office products would no longer have connections to Office 365 services, starting on Oct. 13, 2020. For users of the perpetual-license versions of Office, this restriction means their productivity suites will lack connections to Office 365 services like OneDrive, Outlook and Skype for Business applications on that date.

Office 365 ProPlus Support on Windows
Office 365 ProPlus is the version of Office that gets semiannual channel releases, much like Windows 10 does, so updates arrive more frequently. In contrast, perpetual-license Office products, like Office 2019, don't get frequent updates.

Now Microsoft is putting its foot down regarding Office 365 ProPlus support. Such support is dependent on keeping Windows 10 up to date. If an organization is running a semiannual channel release of Windows 10 that's no longer supported, then the Office 365 ProPlus installation won't be supported either.

Microsoft also plans to end support for Office 365 ProPlus on the following Windows 10 versions, starting on Jan. 14, 2020:

  • Any Windows 10 LTSC release
  • Windows Server 2016 and older
  • Windows 8.1 and older

The Jan. 14, 2020 end-of-support date seems rather accelerated. For instance, Windows 8.1 will fall out of support on Jan. 10, 2023, according to a Microsoft support page, so users of Windows 8.1 and Office 365 ProPlus will have about three years less support under Microsoft's revised policy than might have been anticipated.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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