How long will Microsoft support XP and Vista?

In the comments to an earlier post, a reader wonders out loud whether Microsoft plans to dump its Vista users when Windows 7 comes out. Fortunately, the support lifecycle for all Microsoft products is well documented. In this post, I show you where to look up the details and explain why XP and Vista users will still have access to critical support resources even after Windows 8 is released.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

In the Talkback section to another post, a reader asks a question about when Microsoft plans to drop support for Windows Vista. I hear variations on this one all the time, so I figured it’s worth covering here:

If MS is pushing up Win 7, what is going to happen to all the Vista users? Are they going to get screwed by a short term OS? It seems that MS is stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one. If Vista becomes a speed bump, then the Vista users will be angry. If they don't then all the people who hate Vista will be angry. While in total numbers Vista users are small in number now it still is a large number of people.

I might quibble with the characterization that the total number of Vista users is small. Even if you discount Microsoft’s numbers by 50%, you still have 100 million people using Vista today. That's a huge number by almost any standard and is only small when you compare it to the billion or so Windows machines in existence. So, are those millions and millions of customers out in the cold when Windows 7 comes out?

In a word, no. Microsoft has a well-documented support lifecycle for its software products. It’s part of the agreement that the company makes with everyone who installs Windows, especially business customers who want some assurance that they’ll be able to get updates and support for operating systems and applications even if they choose not to upgrade to the latest and greatest. Here are the high points and how they relate to Windows Vista.

The lifecycle includes two main phases:

  • The Mainstream Support phase includes security updates, non-security hotfixes, no-charge incident support, paid support, warranty claims, design changes and feature requests, and access to online resources such as the Knowledge Base and Microsoft Help and Support.
  • In the Extended Support phase, Microsoft continues to provide security updates, paid support, and online information. Customers who want hotfix support can purchase an extended agreement within 90 days of the end of the Mainstream Support phase.

After the Extended Support phase ends, you can continue to use online self-help resources, but all other support has to be provided through third parties or through custom support agreements such as those enjoyed by some large corporate customers.

So how do these support options map for you? That depends on whether you’re using a business or consumer product.

  • For Business and Developer products (which includes Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions of Vista), the Mainstream Support phase runs for a minimum of five years or two years after the release of the next edition of the product, whichever is later. Assuming that Windows 7 ships in 2009 or 2010, that means Vista will enjoy mainstream support until at least November 30, 2011. The Extended Support phase runs for an additional five years, so you can count on security updates for Vista until at least November 30, 2016.
  • For Consumer products (which includes Vista Home Basic and Home Premium), Microsoft provides Mainstream Support only. Because the launch of the consumer version of Vista was two months later than the business launch, the support lifecycle provides for full support until at least January 30, 2012, or two years after the release of Windows 7, whichever is later.

Good news for consumers is that security updates apply to all Windows versions, so any Vista security updates made available via Windows Update should be delivered to consumers and businesses alike, even during the Extended Support phase. So your copy of Vista Home Premium will continue to receive security updates for at least eight more years.

And what about XP? When Vista came out, conspiracy theorists were quick to predict that Microsoft would abandon it and force customers to switch to Vista. I debunked that notion shortly before Vista shipped. A few months later, in January 2007, Microsoft officially expanded its support terms for XP, covering home editions under the Extended Support phase (see “XP gets a new lease on life”  for details). So, if you use any XP edition, you’re covered through April 2014.

By that time, of course, Windows 8 will probably have been released, which means that Microsoft will be actively supporting four separate desktop editions of Windows.

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