Microsoft has announced the official support life cycle dates for Surface with Windows RT hardware and for the Windows 8 operating system, but not yet for the Windows RT operating system.
Thanks to ZDNet's Ed Bott for the tip on this. As Ed points out, Microsoft's support policies and life cycles are more complicated, but usually considerably more generous than the competition's. Consider the fact that Windows XP, which dates back over 10 years, will get security updates until April 2014. For many of the products with which Surface RT competes, the support life is either much shorter or will end at the whim of the vendor.
The standard support period for business and consumer software products is five years. For business and developer products there is an "extended support" period of another five years, during which security updates are free and some other support options can be purchased. For consumer hardware products support generally lasts four years. During that period, according to Microsoft: "Hardware repairs or replacements and parts are available throughout the support life cycle. Services are free for products under warranty and available for a fee for products out of warranty." Firmware updates for the devices will be available during this period. So will phone and online support, but potentially for a fee.
The official support period for Surface RT hardware is Jan. 24, 2013, to April 11, 2017. It might seem odd that the support period has not yet begun, and yet the product has been available for weeks and is already being supported. Support life cycles begin in the first month of the quarter after a product goes on sale. The exact support end date is based on a formula.
For the Windows RT operating system running on Microsoft's Surface and systems from OEMs such as Dell, Toshiba and Lenovo, support officially begins this Friday, Oct. 30. The end date has not yet been announced.
To be clear, this means that the hardware in a Surface RT, and the firmware running on it, have a different support period than the Windows RT operating system running on it. Office Home and Student 2013 RT, which is bundled with Surface RT, have the same support period as the Windows RT operating system.
The support period for all current editions of Windows 8 runs from Oct. 30, 2012, to Jan. 9, 2018, to the extended support date of Jan. 10, 2023. Microsoft has extended these dates in the past, most famously for Windows XP, which would already have reached end of life by now on the original schedule.
Microsoft implies, in the support life cycle declaration for the Windows RT operating system, that it could be a business product in some cases. If it were a consumer product the extended support period would be "not applicable" rather than just unannounced. This is interesting in that Windows RT explicitly lacks features, such as manageability, which would be essential to business use.