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Microsoft shelves aging software

Jan 12, 20044 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

Microsoft this week will render “obsolete” Windows 98 and Office 97, the first two products in a line of aging software that will see support end this year.

Microsoft this week will render “obsolete” Windows 98 and Office 97, the first two products in a line of aging software that will see support end this year.

The move will force some corporate users to make upgrade decisions or opt for running unsupported software, though observers say Microsoft has done a commendable job supporting old software.

“But that means a lot of this software is still in use,” says Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with IDC. The research firm says Windows 95, 98 and ME, which will be obsolete at year’s end, account for 100 million copies of the operating system in use today.

Other products on the chopping block include SQL Server 6.5, Windows NT 4.0 Workstation and Server, and Internet Information Server 4.0. Versions of Microsoft’s business software, Great Plains, Navision and Solomon, along with its Small Business Server 7.0, also will be obsolete by year-end. In March 2005, Windows 2000 Professional, Server and Advanced Server will hit deadlines for mainstream support, and users will have to pay for incident and hot-fix support. Security fixes will be free.

The list means network executives will have to decide if they want to step up to the latest versions, contract with a third-party that supports obsolete software or run unsupported, which some analysts say presents legal liabilities.

“The risk to customers who remain on a product that is no longer supported is that a situation might arise where a security vulnerability is discovered which cannot be fixed,” says Andy Erlandson, director of security, product support services for Microsoft.

The company instituted its Support Lifecycle policy 14 months ago to provide consistency and predictability, although the dates have been extended on some products such as NT and Visual Basic 6, Erlandson says.

The lifecycle plan mandates five years of mainstream support from the date a product is released followed by two years of fee-based extended support. Mainstream support includes no-charge incident support, paid incident service, support charged on an hourly basis and hot fixes. Extended support, which is included as part of Microsoft’s Software Assurance maintenance plan, might include service charged on an hourly basis and paid hot fixes. Security fixes are free throughout the life cycle of a product.

“We have been watching this product life cycle carefully,” says Matthew Bailey, LAN engineer for CSK Auto, which operates Checker, Schucks and Kragen auto parts stores.

“We want to move before patches are no longer available. It’s important for us because we run a small shop and rely on our Premier support contract,” says Bailey, who is one of seven IT staff managing 800 desktops and 100 servers at the Phoenix company. He adds that 10% of the company’s servers run on NT 4.0 but will be replaced on the company’s normal replacement cycle.

Observers say users don’t have to panic in the face of support deadlines.

“The fact that support is expiring is significant, but the question people have to ask is ‘Have they needed Microsoft’s help in supporting these systems or has the application been stable enough not to need support?'” IDC’s Kusnetzky says. “Another question is, ‘Does this system talk to the network?’ If not, it is less of a security issue.”

If an unsupported system or application is connected to the network, some say it presents real liability issues.

“An unsupported environment is not the technical concern it was four or five years ago, but there are larger ramifications such as the risk of liability,” says Laura DiDio, an analyst with The Yankee Group. “What about customers or business partners that might suffer lost, altered or hijacked data because of your unsupported systems?”

End of life

Microsoft has a number of products that will become “obsolete” this year, meaning support will end. For other products mainstream support will end in 2004 or early 2005, such as for Windows 2000, and fee-based extended support will be available for two years.
Product Released Mainstream Support Extended Support
Windows 98, 98 SEJune 30, 1998, June 30,1999June 30, 2003Jan. 16, 2004
Office 97Dec. 30, 1996Aug. 31, 2001Jan. 16, 2004
Windows NT 4.0 WorkstationJuly 29, 1996June 30, 2002June 30, 2004
Windows NT Server 4.0Sept. 13, 1998Dec. 31, 2002Dec. 31, 2004, incident and security related hot fix only.
Windows Millennium EditionDec. 31, 2000Dec. 31, 2003Dec. 31, 2004 security issues support at no charge, paid incident support.
Internet Information Server 4March 2, 1998Dec. 31, 2002Dec. 31, 2004, extended support fees waived.
SQL Server 6.5 Enterprise EditionJune 30, 1996June 30, 2001Jan. 31, 2002, extended to March 31, 2004
Exchange Server 5.5 Enterprise Edition Feb. 3, 1998Dec. 31, 2003Dec. 31, 2005, extended support fees waived for one year starting January 2004.
Great Plains 7.0, Canadian Payroll, c-tree, pervasive SQL; Great Plains 7.5 Canadian Payroll, c-treeJuly 2, 2003Dec. 31, 2004Not applicable
Navision 2.0, 2.5, 2.65 (Financials, Distribution, Manufacturing)Aug. 1, 1998, Nov. 1, 1999, June 1, 2003July 31, 2004, Dec. 31, 2004, Dec. 31, 2004 Not applicable to all
Windows 2000 ProfessionalMarch 31, 2000March 31, 2005March 31, 2007
Windows 2000 Advanced ServerMarch 31, 2000March 31, 2005March 31, 2007