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3/7/2003
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Langa Letter: Microsoft's Adjusted 'Product Lifecycle' Plans

Fred Langa untangles Microsoft's plans to extend the life of Win98 while it schedules retirement for other Windows operating systems, too.

On that date, free live help for Win98 issues will cease, although paid incident support will be extended for another six months until Jan, 16. Any Win98 security issues identified before June 30 will be patched via freely downloadable hot fixes, but security issues discovered after June 30 may or may not be patched: Microsoft says, "Customers can request Windows 98/98 SE fixes for new security issues and these requests will be reviewed." Thus, Microsoft is reserving the right to patch or not to patch, as it sees fit. And in any case, no new Win98 patches will be released after January, when Win98 enters the nonsupport phase.

This is a key issue for Win98 users: You can only count on having up-to-date security patches for Win98 through early summer of this year. After that, using Win98 will become increasingly risky. Microsoft may release additional patches, but is not promising to do so. So, after June of this year, using Win98 becomes a crap shoot.

By January, Win98 will be in the operating-system equivalent of suspended animation: There'll be no maintenance, upgrades, or patches for the operating system at all. The only support available will be via self-help pages on the Microsoft Web site. Finally, in January 2005, Win98 will reach full end of life, with no support offered of any kind.

Windows ME
WinME also is in wide use, so Microsoft tweaked the life-cycle plans for that as well, though not as much as for Win98:

WinME is now in the last months of its mainstream phase. At the end of the year, it will enter the extended phase. Patches and hot fixes will dry up. In Microsoft's own (confusing) words:

For Microsoft's independent software vendor (ISV), independent hardware vendor (IHV), and OEM customers only, hotfixes for Windows Millennium Edition will only be available in the Mainstream phase for home and run-time scenarios based upon identified trends. For enterprise accounts that purchased licenses for Windows Millennium Edition prior to April 1, 2001, and require hotfix support, please contact your technical account manager or applications development consultant.

The "extended" support phase for WinME runs for a year, until December 2004, when WinME will enter the nonsupport phase. End of life follows a year later, in December 2005.

So it appears that WinME users can count on essential patches and updates only through the end of this year, unless at some later date Microsoft decides to grant WinME users a little extra life the way it did for Win98 users.

Windows NT 4.x
Because NT4.x is nowhere nearly as popular as Win98 and WinME, Microsoft did not relax or extend its originally scheduled support options for this operating system. NT4 entered the "extended" support phase in June 2002. It will enter the "nonsupport" phase on June 30, 2003, and will reach "end of life" on June 30, 2004.

Newer Operating Systems
Windows 2000 and XP fall into the three-step support life-cycle Microsoft is trying to implement: The basic idea is that business products will have an eight-year life: five years of mainstream (full) support, and two years of extended support which "...includes assisted support that may be charged on an hourly basis and can include hotfix support." The eighth and final year is online self-help support, analogous to the nonsupport option mentioned earlier for older operating systems.

Consumer products will have a six-year life, starting with the same five-year support plan that business products also have, but skipping the extended-support period entirely. Instead, at the end of the fifth year, these products move straight to one year of online self-help support.

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