Understanding the Basics of Microsoft’s Mainstream vs Extended Support

Understanding the Basics of Microsoft’s Mainstream vs Extended Support

Whenever the discussion centers around Windows or other Microsoft software it almost always includes information about when the mainstream or extended support ends.

Each of these levels of support mean different things for the Redmond company and support can turn into a very detailed subject so I am going to focus on the basic premise of these two levels so that you can better understand them and know where to find more information as well.

Microsoft’s support for its products and services is referred to as the Microsoft Support Lifecycle.

Microsoft Support Lifecycle policy provides consistent and predictable guidelines for product support availability when a product releases and throughout that product’s life. By understanding the product support available, customers are better able to maximize the management of their IT investments and strategically plan for a successful IT future.

First let’s start with understanding the two main levels of support that Microsoft offers for its products.

Mainstream Support

This is the first phase of support that Microsoft provides for most of its products and services. It lasts for five years and includes the following:

  • Incident support which includes no charge, paid and warranty claims.
  • Security updates
  • Ability to request hotfixes that are not security related

Extended Support

This stage comes right after Mainstream Support and lasts for five years as well. It includes the following elements of support:

  • Paid support incidents
  • Security updates (no additional cost)
  • If you want non-security related hotfixes then you must purchase Extended Hotfix Support and pay for each fix requested
  • Extended Hotfix Support is not available for consumer desktop OS’s.

During the extended support phase there are some caveats:

  • Microsoft will not accept requests for warranty support, design changes, or new features during the Extended Support phase
  • Extended Support is not available for Consumer, Consumer Hardware, or Multimedia products
  • Enrollment in a maintenance program may be required to receive these benefits for certain products

Both mainstream and extended support levels require that you are also on the supported service pack for the product. This means, depending on the product family, that you have either 12 or 24 months to get updated to the most recent service pack. This is because Microsoft will only continue the support for the previous service pack or the initial release of a product for that same time period.

This is the product family breakdown for a service pack support window:

  • 12 Months
    • Office
    • Servers
    • Developer Tools
    • Consumer Software
    • Multimedia
    • Games
  • 24 Months
    • Windows Client and Servers
    • Dynamics

Self-Help Online Support

This is the collection of knowledge base articles, FAQs, troubleshooting tools and other online resources that help a customer resolve issues with their product.

These are available throughout a products lifecycle and for at least 12 months after that period ends.


Microsoft has a searchable Support Lifecycle Product Database that will provide support expiration dates for its current products and services.

Here is a quick snapshot for its currently supported consumer operating systems:

  • Windows 10 (Desktop/Tablet)
    • Mainstream – 13 October 2020
    • Extended – 14 October 2025
  • Windows 8.1
    • Mainstream – 09 January 2018
    • Extended – 10 January 2023
  • Windows 7
    • Mainstream – 13 January 2015 (Expired)
    • Extended – 14 January 2020
  • Windows Vista
    • Mainstream – 10 April 2012 (Expired)
    • Extended – 04 April 2017

In case you were curious extended support for Windows XP ended on 08 April 2014.

Since this is just a basic introduction to lifecycle support at Microsoft you can learn more and get further detail on additional policies that impact hardware, online services, phone or embedded handheld devices at the company’s extensive Lifecycle Support portal.

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