Microsoft Bends On NT Support

All support for NT 4.0, which was introduced in 1996, is due to expire at the end of this month. But based on customer feedback, Microsoft has designed a fee-based custom support program that entitles customers to additional support through December 2006. The company introduced a similar program for NT workstations earlier this year.

Microsoft originally planned to sever all technical support for NT 4.0 at the end of 2003 but gave customers another year of tech support as the downturn in IT spending--and the costs for Microsoft's Licensing 6.0 and Software Assurance policies--strained customers' IT budgets. The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor noted that NT 4.0 support, including security fixes, will cease at the end of this month and won't be available to those that don't pay the flat fee for custom support.

The company also plans to make the same offer available for Exchange 5.5 when support for that product is retired at the end of 2005. Beginning in January 2006, customers will be able to get the custom support contract.

Under the custom support program, Microsoft will charge a flat fee for the service regardless of the deployment. As part of support, the vendor will feed customers security fixes ranging from "important" to "critical." In addition, Microsoft will lower the minimum time period customers can subscribe to the program from six months to three months, which would enable them to get further savings if they upgrade sooner, company executives said.

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The support move reflects customers' increased power in negotiating their upgrade process and license renewals with Microsoft. Peter Houston, senior director of Windows Serviceability at Microsoft, said in a statement issued Friday that the decision also delivers on the 5+5 life-cycle support policy Microsoft announced in May.

NT 4.0 was introduced in August 1996, followed by Windows Server 2000 in February 2000 and Windows Server 2003 in April 2003. Microsoft said most customers have migrated to Windows Server 200X platforms.

"We are trying to provide our customers maximum flexibility as they plan and complete their migration," Houston said in the statement. "By running the offer until the end of 2006, we are providing enterprise customers a full 10 years of service on Windows NT 4.0 server."

One systems integrator said the support program will be useful for the many enterprises that still run NT 4.0 for household tasks and plan to run NT workloads on Virtual Server 2005, a recently released server that enables the consolidation of multiple Windows server workloads on a single box.

"There are two big groups of users who still have NT 4.0, [including] large enterprises that use it for utility servers inside the firewall that are running all the file and print," said John Parkinson, chief technologist for North America at integrator Capgemini, adding that he expected support will be offered for security only. "NT will also be supported on Virtual Server," he said.