Microsoft Simplifies Its Software Support Lifecycle

REDMOND, Wash., Jan. 10, 2006 – When Microsoft standardized the Microsoft Support Lifecycle policy for its products in 2002, the goal was greater consistency and predictability for customers. If customers knew when support for a given product would end, the reasoning went, they could better plan their deployment and support needs and improve efficiency as a result.

Now Microsoft is further simplifying its product-support lifecycle in a move the company says will provide even more predictability for customers. The reason? Support for products traditionally has ended at the end of a calendar quarter – Dec. 31, March 31, June 30 or Sept. 30, mere days before the second Tuesday of the following month, when Microsoft issues security updates. For some customers, that timing has meant they have not been able to take advantage of potential fixes for products for which support has just ended.

Effective today, Microsoft is changing that by matching the date the product-support lifecycle ends with the regular, monthly security update release cycle. Specifically, products for which support ended Dec. 31, 2005 — namely Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 – are supported until today, when Microsoft is issuing a security update for the server, company officials say.

“We changed the end of support dates to map to the monthly security update release cycle so our customers can take advantage of the latest security updates,” says Ines Vargas, group manager for Microsoft Support Lifecycle Program. “By eliminating that 10-to-15-day gap, we’re making sure that our dates make sense to our customers – that they’re even more consistent and predictable.”

The Immediate Impact: Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5

Today’s change impacts Exchange Server 5.5 customers immediately, and allows them to take advantage of a new security update issued today to address a vulnerability in the server (see Related Links).

Support for the server initially was scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2005, although customers needing additional time to complete their Exchange 5.5 migrations have the option to enroll in a for-fee, Custom Support program that began Jan. 1, 2006.

“This is a very good thing for our customers in terms of our Trustworthy Computing initiative,” Vargas says, referring to the long-term, collaborative effort to provide more secure, private and reliable computing experiences for everyone, a core Microsoft tenet.

Since 2004, Microsoft has been in close communication with customers about the lifecycle-support policy and the associated end of support dates for Exchange Server 5.5. In an effort to give customers more flexibility to plan and execute a migration to Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft waived the fees for the first year of Extended Support. In 2005, Exchange Server 5.5 customers continued to receive security updates at no charge.

During the Extended Support phase customers also had the option of obtaining paid support and, for non-security hotfixes, customers could enroll in an Extended Hotfix Support Agreement.

Also in 2005, Microsoft released Exchange Server 2003 SP2 – a cumulative update aimed at enhancing the Exchange Server 2003 messaging environment with mobile e-mail improvements, better protection against spam and mailbox advancements.

Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle Policy

Microsoft first announced its standardized Microsoft Support Lifecycle policy in October 2002. It was developed as a result of Microsoft having multiple support policies for different products and in response to research that showed customers did not have a clear understanding of vendor lifecycle plans. Instead they relied on expectations of how often new releases would occur, and reacted to product retirement announcements.

Working closely with customers, business and industry partners, leading analysts and research firms, Microsoft developed a roadmap and a policy based on a scheduled timetable, rather than product releases. Broadly, the policy provided five years of Mainstream Support for most products from the date of a product’s general availability, followed by two years of Extended Support, a paid support phase – the “five-plus-two” support policy.

In May 2004, Microsoft increased the Extended Support phase it provides for all of its development and business products, giving customers an additional three years to keep using its software. IT departments under budget pressures needed the additional time to keep their Windows PCs and servers in service longer without the risks of running unsupported software or the costly alternative of signing a custom support contract.

This “five-plus-five” policy is the company’s existing Support Lifecycle policy.

All Products to Be Enrolled

Exchange Server 5.5 is the first product to be affected by today’s change, which will be effective across all Microsoft products, Vargas says.

“As part of our ongoing effort to improve the Microsoft Support Lifecycle program, we’re going to review all of our products over the quarter to make all of those date changes,” she says, “and we’re going to implement the new support dates for all of our products.”

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