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Next Windows 10, Office LTSC Releases To Have Shorter Support Lifecycles

The next long-term servicing channel (LTSC) releases of Windows 10 and Microsoft Office, both expected in the second half of 2021, will each have five fewer years of support.

Microsoft detailed the five-year support cuts in a Thursday announcement by Joe Lurie, a senior product manager for Microsoft 365. The cuts are being done to align the two products' lifecycles, he said:

Today we are announcing that the next version of Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC and Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC will be released in the second half (H2) of calendar year 2021. Windows 10 Client LTSC will change to a 5-year lifecycle, aligning with the changes to the next perpetual version of Office. This change addresses the needs of the same regulated and restricted scenarios and devices.

Another reason Microsoft is cutting five years of support on those products is because "many [customers] who previously installed an LTSC version for information worker desktops have found that they do not require the full 10-year lifecycle," Lurie claimed.

When a product falls out of support, Microsoft no longer delivers security patches for it, making it potentially risky to use.

Fixed Lifecycle Policy Continues
The coming Windows 10 LTSC product won't have "mainstream" and "extended" support phases, as traditionally seen under Microsoft's Fixed Lifecycle Policy product support for business users. "It's simply 5 yrs support," Lurie explained in the comments section of the announcement.

Microsoft is actually claiming that the coming Windows 10 LTSC and Office LTSC products will fall under its Fixed Lifecycle Policy, which traditionally has had two five-year support phases, amounting to 10 years total in support.

"Both Office LTSC and Windows 10 LTSC will remain governed by the Fixed Lifecycle Policy," stated Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, in another Thursday announcement

No Support Change for Windows 10 IoT Enterprise
Support isn't getting truncated for Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC users, Lurie assured.

Microsoft still acknowledges that LTSC is useful in cases where devices can't tolerate frequent changes. For those situations, it is still retaining a 10-year lifecycle support policy, but just for users of the Windows 10 IoT Enterprise product, which is aimed at Internet of Things use-case scenarios.

Even though Windows 10 Enterprise LTSC will have five years of support, while Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC will have 10 years of support, they essentially are the same product. Only the licensing is different, Lurie admitted.

"The two operating systems are binary equivalents but are licensed differently," he stated.

Office LTSC, Office 2021 and the Coming Price Increase
Microsoft will not just cut the next Office LTSC release's product support by five years. It's also planning to increase the product's price by about 10 percent.

Organizations will still be able to purchase the new Office LTSC product via a "perpetual" license, though. Here's how Spataro described it:

As with previous releases, Office LTSC will still be a device-based "perpetual" license. We designed it as a specialty product intended for specific scenarios and will increase the price of Office Professional Plus, Office Standard, and the individual apps by up to 10 percent at the time of general availability. And, because we are always asked at release if there will be another one, I'm happy to confirm our commitment to another release in the future.

Buying via a perpetual license means that organizations just buy it once, instead of paying recurring subscription fees. Perpetual licensees aren't entitled to get new feature updates, though.

Microsoft is planning to release an Office 2021 product for consumers and small business users via a perpetual license, which will happened sometime "later this year." However, Office 2021 support also will get cut down to a total of five years.

The future Office products, when shipped, will be available in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

New Servers Products by Subscription Only
Microsoft is planning to provide additional information about its next server products "in the coming months," Spataro noted, without offering further details.

Microsoft had indicated back in September that its coming new server products, such as Exchange, SharePoint, Skype and Project, would be offered only via subscription. No information was provided on what that change might mean for organizations and how it might affect product support.

Back then, Microsoft had just indicated that Exchange Server 2019 would have two years of extended support. However, Exchange Server 2019 appears to just have one year and 10 months of extended support, according to the Microsoft product lifecycle page. Other Microsoft 2019-branded server products also had their extended support lifespans trimmed in a similar way, although Microsoft seems not to have publicly announced these changes. The 2019 server extended support cuts were done to move organizations over to the subscription-based model, Microsoft has admitted.

The Stability vs. Security Argument
Microsoft's announcements represent bad news for organizations that prefer stability over getting new software features, which perhaps is why they opted to use the LTSC products. Organizations could switch to Windows 10 IoT Enterprise in the future, but it's supposed to be used for things like medical devices, instead of desktops.

Organizations using Windows 10 to run things like Office shouldn't use LTSC servicing, Microsoft has previously advised. Apps that come with Windows 10 and that require frequent updates aren't included in the LTSC products.

Perhaps the most cogent argument Microsoft has yet offered to justify its faster feature update pace is security. Apps need frequent updates to stay ahead of potential attackers, Microsoft has previously suggested. Microsoft does provide a separate monthly security patch distribution service (delivering so-called "security-only" patches) that don't change software features, however, so the argument may not be a wholly telling one.

Microsoft first moved to a faster feature update release pace back when its now-defunct Windows Mobile operating system was still a possible competitive prospect in the mobile device space. That OS eventually lost out to the Android and iOS OSes. Nonetheless, Microsoft's faster and more agile product-release cycles continued, and even got extended to its other products, as well.

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