Microsoft Extends Support for Some Legacy Products Indefinitely

In an unexpected move, Microsoft last week revealed dramatic changes to its Custom Support Agreement (CSA) for legacy software products. Now, the software maker will allow businesses to obtain CSAs for a potentially indefinite amount of time, depending on the product. The changes were made in response to customer feedback. Many customers had told Microsoft that they needed more time to migrate to newer software versions, and they wanted to continue paying for support for certain legacy products until their migrations were complete.

Previously, Microsoft had offered a two-year CSA program for products that had reached the "end of life" stage in the support lifecycle, after 10 years on the market. Under the terms of these CSAs, businesses could pay Microsoft to receive critical software updates and support for the products in question. With the changes, customers can continue to purchase CSAs for retired products, but the programs won't expire after two years.

The idea is breathtakingly simple. Only those businesses that want to continue paying for support need do so, and then only on a per-device basis. Customers can even request additional nonsecurity hotfixes for newly discovered bugs for an extra fee.

If you're not familiar with Microsoft's product support life cycle, fear not; it's been updated a lot in the past few years. Today, Microsoft recognizes two distinct support phases for its business-oriented products. The first, mainstream support, occurs during the first five years of a product's lifetime. During this phase, Microsoft supports its products with security updates, nonsecurity hotfixes, and provides businesses with a variety of free and paid support options. The company also considers product design and feature changes during this time period.

During the second phase, extended support, Microsoft provides only security updates for free. Customers can pursue various paid support options during extended support, including access to nonsecurity hotfixes through an Extended Hotfix Support Agreement. But Microsoft won't entertain any product design changes or new features during this phase.

Technically, the mainstream support phase applies to all Microsoft products, whereas the extended support phase is applicable only to business and developer software, such as OSs, the Microsoft Office suite, Visual Studio, and various server products. (There are exceptions as well; annual products like Microsoft Money and Encarta receive only three years of mainstream support.) After the product's life cycle ends, customers can enter into specific paid CSA arrangements via Premium Support during migrations to new product versions. That last bit is important: CSA isn't designed to lengthen a product's lifecycle, but rather to recognize that businesses must follow their own schedule when upgrading and will sometimes need more time than is allotted in the support lifecycle.

There are some questions about the changes, however, and Microsoft is being a bit vague about which products are supported and how long, exactly, it will offer that support. Basically, the software maker says that if there's enough demand, there's no reason it can't offer CSAs for some products indefinitely. This opportunity might not be offered for products that aren't still in demand.

Washington D.C. This Week
I'll be hosting a road show event called "Managing Your Cross-Platform Data: Solutions for Oracle and SQL Server Environments" this week in Washington D.C. If you're interested, check out the show's Web site and considering swinging by. We'll be in the Boston area the following week.

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