Users tire of Microsoft’s product lifecycle treadmill

Microsoft’s relentless product support lifecycle is forcing users to seek out alternatives as upgrades add little business value.

While Microsoft has extended its software support program by three years to alleviate the pressure of forced upgrades, IT managers said they are tired of products going out of date.

Sydney University’s faculty of architecture IT manager Jason Thorne said Microsoft does have good support, but forced upgrades "to get money from us can be annoying".

“Although we don’t have the money to upgrade, we should, because maintaining Windows 98 is a problem and we don’t want to keep using old software,” Thorne said.

The faculty recently migrated its Windows NT servers to Windows 2000 “later than we should have” because of the lingering threat of no support from Microsoft and “internal pressure”, according to Thorne.

Microsoft's product lifecycle program, introduced in October 2002, has been extended and now gives corporate users hot fixes and telephone support for as long as five years. It is part of an ongoing effort to refine licensing and support services that have not lived up to customer expectations.

State Library of South Australia's ICT project manager Lesley Sharp welcomed Microsoft's support extension, saying it will save users from forced upgrades.

"It's good if users aren't forced to move [software] in a timeframe that doesn't suit the business requirements," Sharp said. "Users want to upgrade for business reasons and not upgrade for upgrade’s sake. I presume Microsoft has started extending support because people can't move off NT that quickly and it's not easy to shift everything."

The library - which also runs Sun and Novell servers - has standardised on Windows 2000 as its preferred desktop operating system but found the cost of moving to Microsoft’s Software Assurance pricing model prohibitive.

"We did go through an exercise at the portfolio [government departmental] level to consider Software Assurance for the desktop, but I couldn't justify the cost," she said.

"We knew that we would sit on Windows 2000 for five years or until we have to upgrade rather than pay Software Assurance that didn't seem good value for money."

When Windows 2000 was provisioned Sharp understood the library would be up for a capital expenditure come the next upgrade and, as such, is considering cost-effective alternatives for some staff desktops in the future.

"We will look at Sun's Java Desktop System or Linux which may be suitable for some users in order to scale back use of Windows," she said. "A lot of our users are not typical office workers; some use only e-mail and a bit of Word.”

Mooney Valley City Council’s information systems manager Maureen Trezise said the functionality and improvements in Microsoft’s products make upgrading sufficiently attractive to warrant the “inconvenience, expense and stress of the migration”.

“The strength of the skills in the workforce market place will continue to influence IT managers to stay on the Microsoft path,” Trezise said.

“The pricing models for Microsoft products may deter some IT managers from using Microsoft products in the future. The pricing is confusing and does not offer incentives to keep software updated.”

Microsoft’s services director Nigel Cadywould, said the company’s decision to extend support gives it an opportunity to hold more productive discussions with customers about upgrade paths.

“NT 4 is getting long in the tooth and some vulnerabilities are getting harder to tackle,” Cadywould said.

“Upgrading to Windows Server 2003 is a significant jump from NT 4 and the difference is really noticed around performance, security and manageability.”

With extended support for NT ending December 31 this year, Cadywould said customers should talk to Microsoft or partners about further support. For details on Microsoft’s product lifecycle dates see http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=fh;[ln];LifeWin

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