How Microsoft's support lifecycles affect you and your business

How Microsoft's support lifecycles affect you and your business

Summary: Microsoft says it's shutting down Mainstream support for Windows 7 next January. Should you be worried?

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TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft
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Every piece of Microsoft business software ships with a EULA, a copyright notice, and an expiration date. Every time you run Windows or Office or any of a gazillion Microsoft-branded on-premises server products, the clock is ticking relentlessly down toward that end-of-support date.

That interval between the debut of a software package and its formal retirement is called the Microsoft Support Lifecycle, and if any of those Microsoft products are part of your IT infrastructure you need to know how those deadlines work.

The subject comes up this week as Microsoft sounds the warning bell about a few key support milestones that are on the near horizon.

On January 13, 2015, mainstream support ends for the following products:

  • Windows 7 (all editions)
  • Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2
  • Windows Storage Server 2008
  • Microsoft Dynamics C5 2010, NAV 2009, and NAV 2009 R2

As it turns out, the end of mainstream support is not that big a deal for most Microsoft customers. The transition from mainstream to extended support doesn't signal a greater risk; it simply marks the point where Microsoft says "We're no longer adding features to this product, but we're still updating it with fixes for security and reliability issues."

See also:

The other milestone this week is much more meaningful.

On July 14, 2015, extended support ends for Windows Server 2003. That's more than 12 years after the operating system debuted, and just as with Windows XP earlier this year, it's a hard stop. After that date, you cannot count on any security patches or reliability fixes for Windows Server 2003.

It's frightening to imagine a business continuing to run on Windows XP on some of its desktop PCs after Microsoft has pulled the plug on security fixes. But it's horrifying to imagine any business continuing to run an unsupported server OS, which will be the case when Windows Server 2003 passes its end-of-support date.

So, what's the difference between mainstream and extended support? This is a topic I cover regularly. Here's the Cliff Notes version:

  • Microsoft offers a minimum of 10 years of support for Business and Developer products. Most products also receive at least 10 years of online self-help support.
  • Mainstream Support lasts for five years, or for two years after the successor product is released), whichever is longer.
  • Extended Support continues for five years following the end of mainstream support or for two years after the second successor product is released, whichever is longer.

Even in the Extended Support period, all products continue to offer paid support options, security updates, and product-specific information on the Microsoft Knowledge Base and at the Microsoft Help and Support site for that product.

So what goes away with the end of the Mainstream Support phase?

  • Microsoft no longer supplies non-security hotfixes unless your company pays for an extended support agreement.
  • All warranty claims end.
  • Microsoft no longer accepts requests for new features and design changes.

That's it.

(You can revel in the geeky lawyerly prose of the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy FAQ by yourself if you like that sort of thing.)

And on a separate note, it's worth calling out the differences between the Sales Lifecycle and the Support Lifecycle. Those dates are separate for a practical reason: It makes no sense to have hardware partners selling an operating system or application that is months away from reaching its end-of support date.

So, under normal circumstances, OEM sales of a Microsoft operating system end two years after its successor appears on the market.

But that policy was tweaked earlier this year when Microsoft announced it would extend the right of OEMS to sell PCs with Windows 7 Pro indefinitely.

That results in the odd situation where Windows 7 PCs can be sold next summer, with Microsoft's blessing, more than six months after mainstream support for that OS has ended.

Chalk it up to another awkward transition between Windows versions, but don't burn too many brain cells worrying about the calendar mismatch. Windows 7 will be in the Extended Support phase until January 14, 2020, which means you have five full years to use those Windows 7 PCs before they hit the same wall that Windows XP collided with this year.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft

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69 comments
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  • Good explanation

    I found the drama about the routine end of mainstream support announcement rather odd. It really means nothing to end users and is only important to enterprise customers and developers working below the application layer.
    Buster Friendly
  • Re: mainstream support ends....

    Windows 7 (all editions)

    They can't be serious. Mind you we are talking Microsoft now where all they care about is producing glorified Tablets with the pretence of replacing the Laptop.

    Good for the shareholder.

    Bad for the Desktop User.

    Of course I realise its not the end of support entirely for Windows 7 but Microsoft will be trying to tuck it away as Windows 7 is well on course to become the next XP.
    5735guy
    • Seems you either didn't read

      Or didn't understand what the article was saying!
      Hmmm!
      martin_js
      • Microsoft want to sweep Windows 7 under the carpet ASAP....

        As long as Windows 7 is about Windows 8 in its many guises (at least on the Desktop) will continue to fail.
        5735guy
        • You are

          clueless. This is NOTHING new for MS.

          Windows 7 is supported with critical and security updates until Jan of 2020. Most corporations won't even think about replacing Windows 7 until 2018....and start the replacement in 2019.
          ctopher5669
        • Enjoy it while you can

          Not sure what you will have to complain about this time next year when everyone will be using Windows 9. I'm sure you will think of something regardless of how illogical it may be.
          thekman58
    • So...

      ... you're demeaning Microsoft for SUPPORTING their products?

      Seriously?

      Supporting an operating system for 10 years is a bad thing?

      Would you prefer them to use Apple's method of enforcing planned obsolescence and forcing users to buy new hardware?

      That's what it sounds like to me.
      ForeverCookie
      • Re: Apple's Support Policy....

        To a point I agree. One of my machines is an Early 2006 Mac Mini 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo with 2GB RAM upgrade with an SSD fitted. Sure its a fast machine with these enhancements but it cannot run past OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard. I am currently looking in to upgrading the CPU to a Intel Core 2 Duo to take advantage of the additional gestures available in OS X 10.7 Lion. There is nothing wrong with Snow Leopard whatsoever in fact it is possibly the strongest release of OS X aside from Mavericks but it would be good to have the option to run Lion on a machine from 2006. And yes I agree to achieve this the Mac user should not have to jump through hoops.

        Support has improved somewhat. For example the 2011 iMac will run OS X 10.7, OS X 10.8, OS X 10.9 and with some hacking will run OS X 10.6.8 as well. Furthermore it will be compatible with the forthcoming OS X Yosemite.
        5735guy
        • MorphOS

          It might not be able to run the latest version of OS X, but it should be able to run the latest version of MorphOS just fine. Google it. ;)
          Oldsmobile_Mike
        • But, Apple only supports N and N-1 versions of their OS

          Windows 8 will run on an awful lot of the PCs sold in the Vista era, and probably some from the pre-Vista era. But, that's not the point

          The difference with Windows, is that up until a very short while ago, Microsoft supported the following versions of Windows (a the appropriate Service Pack level):

          Windows XP (now no longer supported, but it lasted 12 years in support)
          Windows Server 2003
          Windows Server 2003 R2
          Windows Vista
          Windows Server 2008
          Windows 7
          Windows Server 2008 R2
          Windows 8 (and 8.1)
          Windows Server 2012
          Windows Server 2012 RT
          Windows RT

          Apple, on the other hand supports two variety of cats. If you have an older OS, and there's a security vulnerability (yes, Apple gets them too), don't expect a patch.
          Flydog57
    • 12345 - Read the arcticle

      Then you will see how sill you are.
      ScanBack
    • Nothing lasts forever in the software world

      Microsoft, Apple, etc. all have lifecycles for support. No software product or OS lasts forever, neither does hardware. Your car has a 3-5 year warranty, then it's on you for all repairs. Get over it you cheapskate. XP lasted far too long, Windows 7 will have a long lifespan also. Longer than they probably should.
      rollguy
      • ??

        It's not about being cheap, it's about the fact they haven't made a new OS that is WORTH using, let alone worth paying a single penny for. They know Windows 8 is failing miserably & they want to try & push users into it by slowly stopping the support. They think this act will scare users into buying it & it probably will get them a few sales, but honestly, I think most of us will just move on to something else entirely. Windows 7 is just a good OS, that's why a lot of us want to keep it, not because we are cheap or can't afford it.
        Space.Octopus
    • Unfortunate

      but true. I'm sick of their crap & the road they're heading down. I grew up on Windows, from when I was about 5, and I've seen versions come and go, but this is the biggest mistake ever. If they seriously think that this will make more people buy the atrocity that is called Windows 8, they are SORELY mistaken. They may see a very SMALL bump, but for REAL computer users who actually want to use a computer & not a tablet disguised as a laptop, they will be losing a TON of customers by 2020. I imagine by then, that a lot of us will finally decide we're done with Microsoft & start using a Linux distro full time. It's better than the alternative, and if 8 is any indication of the future of Windows, I know 100% I will want absolutely nothing to do with them. Hopefully though, the one thing keeping me from using Linux full time right now, will have changed by 2020, which is a MUCH wider support of software for it. Currently I use Windows out of convenience & I do rather like Windows 7, it's not bad once you find your way around, but my feelings are much stronger for Linux projects of almost every kind & I would rather use it any day than this. I wish more software creators would realize that they should be giving Linux users JUST as much, if not more, consideration than Mac users, by making their software compatible with it. I see it more often though, especially since XP dying, which is a good sign. My only other hope would be that Microsoft turns around before it's too late & they can't go back anymore. They are alienating REAL computer users. If they want to make tablets, by all means, make your tablets, but DON'T MAKE IT THE MAJOR VERSION OF WINDOWS! I don't want my computer looking like a 5 year old incompetent & drunk artist created my interface, either!
      Space.Octopus
  • "Microsoft no longer supplies non-security hotfixes" and "no longer accepts requests for new features and design changes."

    Does Microsoft ever?

    :O
    Fleet Command
    • Have you paid for 10,000 seats?

      If you have a high-volume EA, then yes.
      Ed Bott
      • The group I worked for had over 1,000,000.

        The US Government.

        MS never did fix the virus problem.
        jessepollard
        • Sure you did, jesse, sure you did

          you seem to have worked for everybody, and just as interesting, it seems every single one of them had the 100% opposite experience with MS then other people commenting here have.

          Seriously, what are the odds.... :)
          William.Farrel
      • You misunderstood. 9 out 10 computer seat in world looks over Windows. Did Microsoft ever fix a bug that affects them all?
        Fleet Command
        • If you call Microsoft support, and you have a bug

          There's a chance Microsoft will fix it. Go look on the "Connect" site. People report bugs, lots of them get fixed.

          There's a much better chance of getting your bug fixed if you pay for Premier Support (in part, because you will have a Technical Account Manager that will shepherd the bug through the hotfix process). Microsoft fixes bugs *all the time* - and pretty much all of them are customer reported issues.

          Caveat, I used to work for Microsoft (in Premier Support).
          Flydog57