Microsoft will end support for Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista with no service packs installed, and all versions of Windows 2000 over the next several months as part of the company's regular support lifecycle policy.
Ending support for old OS versions is one way Microsoft pushes customers into using -- and buying -- newer products, but the support lifecycle policy has no effect on the life of a license or how long IT shops actually use a product.
"Like many health care organizations, we are slow to upgrade. Microsoft's end-of-support policy does not really impact us; we are more driven by regulatory compliance and vendor guidance," Reynolds said. "We went through it with Windows 3.1, 95, 98, NT, 2000, and it was never a problem."
"Windows XP had three service packs and the longest life of any Microsoft OS, so in general, it is very stable with very few remaining bugs," said Directions on Microsoft licensing and support analyst Paul Degroot.
But while the end of the support lifecycle won't have much immediate effect on IT shops, it may affect customers with custom applications written specifically to work with XP, DeGroot said.
"There is no reason those custom apps will stop working once support ends, but if a security patch comes along and screws the application up, you will need to either rewrite the app or get Extended Hotfix Support [through Software Assurance]," DeGroot said.
Though Microsoft doesn't publicize fees for Hotfix Support, it is known to be very expensive. "A few years ago, $30,000 gave you the right just to talk to Microsoft about getting them to create fixes for your applications," DeGroot said. "Bottom line is, Microsoft wants people to move to the newer versions, so it ends up that the cost of staying on old programs gets higher and higher every year you hold on to them."
While many users are still on Windows XP, few are still on Windows 2000 -- but there are areas of the world with people who are. "The problem for them is that now when those devices get infected, there is no patch to mitigate the problem, and those systems can propagate a virus," DeGroot said.
What and when
Microsoft plans to end support for Windows Vista with no service packs installed on April 13, 2010, and there will be no more security updates for that version. Customers on SP1 or SP2 will continue to receive security updates and support.
July 13 marks the end of support and security updates for Windows XP SP2, but XP SP3 will receive Extended Support through April 8, 2014.
Support for all versions of Windows 2000 will also end on July 13. Microsoft intends to end support for Windows Server 2000 and move Windows Server 2003 from the Mainstream Support phase to the Extended Support phase.
In addition, shut downs for Windows 7 Release Candidate started on March 1 and will continue through June 1.
Customers unable to move to a supported product before July 13, 2010, can use the Custom Support Program (download PDF), which offers Premier Support subscribers support for legacy products and service packs after mainstream support ends, as long as there is a migration plan in place.
Microsoft's support lifecycle is typically 10 years from the time a product first is available or for two years after the successor product is released, whichever is longer. The first five years are considered Mainstream Support, and the last five years are Extended Support.
For service packs, the software company provides either 12 or 24 months of support for the previous service pack, depending on the product. When support for a product ends, support of the service packs for that product will also end, and the product's support lifecycle supersedes the service pack support policy.