Microsoft recently introduced a new product support life cycle policy designed to make support availability more predictable and consistent. This will allow customers to better plan their upgrades, instead of relying on announcements about the retirement of products or the discontinuation of support for them.

Under previous policies, customers couldn’t effectively plan upgrades. This had a significant impact on IT budgets and implementation plans. Microsoft’s new policy makes clear when the support for a product will end and what types of support are available during the product life cycle.

The new policy should be of great benefit to those who rely on Microsoft products, especially its operating systems.

The policies
Microsoft has adopted two support policies—one that covers business and development software, the other for consumer products, hardware, and multimedia software. The primary difference between the two is that additional paid support is unavailable for consumer, hardware, and multimedia products.

Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle policy establishes two phases of support for business and development software.

The Mainstream Support Phase lasts at least five years from the product release date. Mainstream support provides the same options and services that are currently available, including free incident support, paid incident support, hourly charge support, warranty claim support, and hot fix support. In this phase, customers can suggest design changes or feature additions, and Microsoft will evaluate the requests.

At the end of that five-year period, customers can elect to purchase extended support, which covers the product for an additional two years. With extended support, you must pay for support on an hourly basis. To get hot fix support, you have to purchase a hot fix support contract within 90 days after the end of the mainstream period. During the extended phase, Microsoft will not respond to requests for warranty support, make design changes, or add new features.

Beyond the extended phase, customers can obtain additional support through Microsoft’s strategic partners. This custom support may include assisted support as well as hot fix level support.

Online self-help support—which includes access to the Microsoft Knowledge Base, FAQs, troubleshooting tools, and other resources—is available for a period of at least eight years after the product release date. So for at least one year after the end of the extended phase, customers will have access to online resources free of charge to resolve issues without contacting Microsoft.

For Microsoft’s consumer, hardware, and multimedia products, no extended support is available at the end of the mainstream phase. Customers will continue to have access to the self-help resources, however, for the same eight-year period from the product’s release.

Service packs and patches
In addition to the new support policy, Microsoft also announced a change in its Service Pack Support Policy, which extends the availability of support for product service packs.

Previously, Microsoft only offered support for the most recent service pack; it now offers support on the current and immediately preceding service packs. Support for preceding service packs will continue for up to one year after the release of the most current one. Customers can request new or receive existing hot fixes for both during the mainstream support phase.

Microsoft will not automatically create hot fixes for the immediately preceding service packs, however. If a customer needs a hot fix for the earlier service pack, it must contact Microsoft to request it.

Security patches
For business and development software, Microsoft will offer security patches through the extended support phase at no additional charge. Security fixes for most products will thus be available for seven years from the product release date.

Microsoft will provide security patches for its consumer, hardware, and multimedia products for five years—through the end of the mainstream support phase.

Microsoft says the new policies cover most of its currently available and future product offerings. To verify that your product is covered by the policy, you should visit the product’s Web page or find it via the Locate Your Product page.

For additional information about Microsoft’s new policies, you can visit the Support Lifecycle Support Policy FAQ page.

Potential benefit
In the long run, the new policies likely won’t result in big changes in the way Microsoft’s customers use its products, but they will add better predictability to the product life spans. Because of the new policies, customers won’t be caught off guard by announcements of the discontinuation of support for particular products.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on the impact of Microsoft’s Support Lifecycle policy? We’d like to hear what you think about the announcement and whether it will affect your IT planning. Will the new policies have positive effects? Let us know what you think by joining the discussion below or by dropping us a line via e-mail.