Microsoft last week instituted specific timetables on the length of support it will offer on its products in an effort to help corporate customers better plan their upgrade cycles.Microsoft\u00a0last week instituted specific timetables on the length of support it will offer on its products in an effort to help corporate customers better plan their upgrade cycles.Microsoft's Support Lifecycle policy, which officially kicked off Oct. 15, dictates that all business and development software will have mainstream product support for five years from the date it is released. Mainstream support includes no-charge incident support, paid incident support, support charged on an hourly basis, support for warranty claims and hot-fix support."Microsoft is not changing its support plan, it is just making it clearer and letting enterprises plan accordingly," says Al Gillen, an IDC analyst. Gillen dismisses the notion that the move is yet another way to force people to Microsoft's controversial Licensing 6.0 program, which began in August.He says that just because support disappears doesn't mean users must retire a product. "By the end of the support, the software is probably stable, and users can do their own support," he says.In the past, users were left to wonder when Microsoft would pull the support plug on certain products. Now they know that they have five years. Microsoft also will offer two years of extended support, which includes assisted support that may be charged on an hourly basis and can include hot-fix support. During that period, however, users who want nonsecurity hot-fix support will need to purchase a contract within the first 90 days after the end of a product's mainstream support phase.During the extended phase, Microsoft will not accept requests for warranty support, design changes or new features.But Microsoft also left itself some wiggle room, saying some product support could be extended based on customer demand, and that the company could extend support terms for larger customers. Also, resellers and consulting companies would not be restricted from offering longer periods of support.Under the new guidelines, support for Windows 2000 will extend until March 31, 2007; for Exchange 5.5 SP4 until Dec. 31, 2003; Exchange 2000 SP3, Dec. 31, 2005; SQL Server 7.0 SP4, March 31, 2004; and Internet Information Server 4, Dec. 31, 2002 and Version 5, March 31, 2005.