The extended support phase for Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0 Workstation operating system -- which will mark its seventh birthday on July 29 -- officially came to an end Monday, as the company had said it would. That means corporate users needing assistance will now have to rely on the company's self-help online option or contract with an outside company for NT 4.0 Workstation-related problems.
What Microsoft refers to as its "mainstream support" phase ended a year ago for Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. Mainstream support includes no-charge incident support, support for warranty claims, "hot fix" support, paid incident support and support charged on an hourly basis.
Extended support includes only the paid support options, with the exception of security-related hot fixes, which are still provided at no charge. A hot fix is a modification to commercially available product code to address a specific problem.
Microsoft in October announced a "Support Lifecycle" policy calling for most products to be supported for a minimum of five years, followed by a two-year extended support phase that customers can purchase. Self-help online support is available for a minimum of eight years after a product is released.
The mainstream support phase for Windows NT 4.0 Workstation lasted nearly a year longer than the minimum five-year period, but the extended support phase ceased about a month shy of the seven-year mark.
By contrast, Microsoft elected to extend pay-per-incident and premier support for Windows NT 4.0 Server -- which, like the Workstation edition, was released on July 29, 1996 -- through Dec. 31, 2004. Nonsecurity hot fixes, however, will no longer be available after Dec. 31, 2003.
At the time Microsoft announced the extension in January, Bob O'Brien, a group product manager in the Windows server division, estimated that between 35 percent and 40 percent of Windows server deployments were NT 4.0. He said "common sense" dictated that the company should extend key support provisions "if you want to have a relationship with these customers for the next seven to 10 years."
Mike Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said he also thinks Microsoft should have extended support for Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. He noted that a survey of Gartner clients conducted in conjunction with a conference showed that 35.4 percent of 850,000 desktops were still running NT 4.0 Workstation. In Europe, the number was even higher, with 57 percent of the 505,000 desktops running the aging operating system.
"Every organization needs to come to its own terms about how big an exposure that is," Silver said. He added that many IT professionals figure that the operating system has been running for some time without problems, and the desktop applications are working, so they don't need support.
"It's much more than that," Silver said. "If a new security hole is found, Microsoft may not fix it."
New applications haven't supported Windows NT 4.0 Workstation for some time, he said, "so enterprises really need to move."
No-charge assisted support and extended hot fix support for Windows 98 -- which was released five years ago -- also ended Monday. But Microsoft is providing extended support through Jan. 16, 2004, when the product will be considered obsolete, with no assisted support available.
"What's the point?" said Silver. "For enterprises, since it doesn't include bug fix support, there's still no insurance if some big hole is found that Microsoft will fix it. It doesn't buy enterprises much to extend the assisted support without the hot fix support."
Online self-help support for Windows 98 will be available at least until June 30, 2006, according to Microsoft's Web site.
Microsoft officials couldn't be reached for comment.