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Microsoft NT 4 support hoopla

Jun 30, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

* Clearing up the NT 4 support flap

Microsoft set off a bit of a flap last week when a press release seemed to indicate that it was once again extending the support terms for Windows NT 4. Turns out, though, that it was simply a poorly worded press release (or some reporters had overactive imaginations) and nothing has really changed.

In May, Microsoft announced a streamlined lifecycle policy for its business and developer products. The updated policy provides customers with a minimum total of 10 years of mainstream and extended support, but the announcement, which was made at the TechED conference, missed on a couple of details.

The most important detail, in the context of today’s topic, was that NT 4 was not included in the new, extended coverage. After all, NT 4 is only 8 years old, isn’t it?

Microsoft clarified its policy by announcing that only products still in their “mainstream” phase would be granted the longer support period. Since NT 4 is now in the “extended” support phase, it wouldn’t be covered. NT 4, which should have had support ended last year under the previous policy of 5 years of mainstream and 2 years of extended support, had already had its extended support time limit increased once through to the end of 2004, and Microsoft’s spokespeople indicated that another extension wouldn’t happen again.

Yet, when Microsoft issued a press release last week touting an agreement with a consortium of 100 of the largest integrated financial institutions in the U.S., a large number of pundits seized upon one paragraph claiming that Microsoft was now reversing its stance on NT 4. The wording in question was: “Working with the financial industry, Microsoft has agreed on parameters for specialized support for Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 to provide financial institutions and other customers with security updates for an extended period during which they will migrate their systems to more recent versions of Windows.”

Note that phrase “agreed on parameters.” What it really means is, “agreed on a price.” What ends on Dec. 31, 2004 is the free support for security fixes. What Microsoft and the financial institutions agreed on was paid support for security fixes for the time necessary, even after Dec. 31, 2004, to upgrade NT 4 machines to Windows Server 2003 (or Windows XP Professional for the desktop version of NT 4).

Microsoft later clarified the terms of the agreement by noting that the service it offered the financial institutions is available to any enterprise that is willing to pay for it and is willing to commit to upgrading to the newest operating systems within a finite time period (negotiable along with the price).

Nothing has changed. For those of you still supporting NT 4 (and, as we saw in recent issues of this newsletter, for good reason), there won’t be any last minute reprieve from Microsoft. It’s time to figure out your plan for supporting the system after next New Year’s Eve.