Feb-20, 8:30AM PST: Updated with Microsoft confirmation of policy change.
Microsoft’s support lifecycle for Windows is clearly spelled out. Consumer versions get five years of mainstream support, and business versions get an additional five years of extended support. That was true when I first wrote about this issue in 2008, and it was equally true in 2009 when I published an updated post covering Windows 7.
Under those guidelines, mainstream support for Windows Vista is set to end in less than two months, on April 10, 2012.
This month, with almost no fanfare, Microsoft has revised its support policy for consumer versions of Windows so that they qualify for extended support as well. If you go to the Support Lifecycle home page and search for a product family, you get new results for Windows Vista and Windows 7 that include Extended Support end dates for consumer versions of both products.
I can’t find an official announcement from Microsoft in the U.S., but Microsoft Japan has published an announcement confirming the change. This English-language translation (courtesy of Microsoft's own web service) captures the gist in only slightly fractured syntax:
It's about the product support life cycle policy changes of the Windows client OS (2/2012)
Changed the lifecycle policy for extended support, Microsoft provides a consistent customer use Windows client operating system (OS) services. Will be applied the extended support for Windows 7, Windows Vista consumer products.
Available service packs for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 product currently supported this change's customers are subject to up to 10 years of security update provides will regardless of the Edition.
Support end date for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 are as follows:
Windows XP 4/8/2014
Windows Vista 4/11/2017
Windows 7 1/14/2020
In practice, this change simply aligns Microsoft’s policy with how Windows works. As I noted two years ago:
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.
I’ve asked Microsoft in the U.S. to confirm this change and will update this post when I hear from them. [That was fast. See update at end of post.]
With this change, Microsoft has definitely signaled that it’s serious about its 10-year support commitment for Windows. When Windows 8 ships later this year, it will kick off a period of roughly 18 months, ending with the April 2014 sunset date for Windows XP, in which the company will be actively supporting four versions of Windows.
Oh, and a footnote. Don’t mistake the support lifecycle for the sales lifecycle, which is a completely separate issue. You cannot buy a retail copy of Windows XP or Vista today, nor can you get either OS installed on a new PC. The sales lifecycle is tied to the release date of a new versions of Windows. I explained how it’s likely to work for Windows 7 in a July 2010 post:
OEM sales stop two years after the release of the next version of Windows. (Sales of boxed retail copies stop one year earlier.) If you assume that Sinofsky’s team will deliver another on-time release, then Windows 8 will hit retail shelves exactly three years after Windows 7, in October 2012. And that’s when the clock starts ticking. Two years later, at the end of 2014, Microsoft will no longer permit OEMs to sell Windows 7. Customers can buy Windows 8, which will include downgrade rights to the previous two versions—Windows 7 and Windows Vista. It will not include downgrade rights to XP.
Bookmark this post. I predict in the next few months you’re going to see some otherwise knowledgeable Windows analysts get it wrong again.
A tip of the hat and thanks to eagle-eyed reader Robert Clayton for noting the change and alerting me.
A Microsoft spokesperson confirms the change via email:
Microsoft is updating the Support Lifecycle policy for Windows desktop operating systems, including Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7.
The update will provide a more consistent and predictable experience for customers using Microsoft Windows operating systems across OEM, consumer and business editions.
Microsoft still requires that customers have the most current Service Pack installed in order to continue to receive updates.
Through this update, customers who remain on the most current supported service pack will be eligible to receive both Mainstream and Extended Support, for a total of 10 years.