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Microsoft ends free support for Office 97

In another move at least partly aimed at prodding people to upgrading their software, Microsoft has ended its free support for customers of its most popular business software product.

In another move at least partly aimed at prodding people to upgrading their software, Microsoft has ended its free support for customers of its most popular business software product.

The software giant has started charging for person-to-person troubleshooting advice regarding Office 97. People wishing to pay the fee may call Microsoft or submit a personal service request on Microsoft's support site. Or they can scan Microsoft's online support library and try to find answers themselves for free.

The move is part of the company's year-old policy to provide free support exclusively for the current version and the immediately preceding version of its software. For the company's office productivity suite, that means Microsoft will provide free support for Office XP, which debuted last week, and its predecessor, Office 2000.

CIBC World Markets analyst Melissa Eisenstat said the new fees may not go over well with Office 97 customers, who now have two options: pay Microsoft US$14.95 per service request or buy an upgrade to Office XP.

"They've got customers by the short hairs," Eisenstat said.

The company also axed free support for Visio 5.0, Frontpage 98 and Outlook 98 as of last Friday. Microsoft will continue to provide free phone support for Office 98, a Mac-only version of the software, as well as the current Mac version, Office 2001.

Microsoft outlined a new licensing program last month that forced the majority of its business customers to either upgrade to Office XP before October 1 or pay a heftier purchase price later. In the process, Microsoft raised costs anywhere from 33 percent to 107 percent for the majority of customers, according to Gartner.

It also eliminated the most popular licensing plan for upgrading to new versions of its software, replacing it with a new program called Software Assurance. The new program guarantees customers access to the latest versions of Microsoft's business software, including Office and Windows.