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Microsoft's NT4 support policy: Virtue or vice?

Keeping your word is normally considered a virtue. When you're Microsoft, it can be construed as stubbornness.

Gartner analysts Michael Silver and Neil MacDonald used the occasion of last week's unprecedented Microsoft security bulletin package to argue that Redmond is

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making a big mistake by sticking to its policy on Windows NT Workstation 4. Microsoft stopped offering free fixes for the desktop operating system when support expired on June 30.

From a business standpoint, the tough-love approach on NT4 makes sense. Microsoft is going to have a hard time nudging customers off NT4 if they can still get freebies. In this case, however, Gartner is right. We're not talking about office furniture here, we're talking corporate livelihood.

If an enterprise network is crippled by a virus because Microsoft withheld an NT4 security patch that it had already created for its paid-support program, the outcry will be heard far and wide. Gartner figures that 10% to 20% of enterprise PCs still run NT4, so chances are good that someone is bound to get burned.

Microsoft would be wise to take Gartner's advice: Make critical patches available publicly for NT4. The effort shouldn't be huge, since the code base is pretty close to that of NT Server anyway. If customers want more than that out of an eight-year-old OS, they ought to be willing to pay for it, or replace it. Hey, even office furniture doesn't last forever.

Elsewhere in the news

Microsoft and networking-gear leader Cisco Systems have sealed a deal to make their end-point security offerings interoperable, although it won't happen for a while. Cisco already has a quarantine tool called Network Admission Control, but Microsoft's Network Access Protection won't be ready until the Longhorn version of Windows Server is released in 2007. On the surface, the agreement seems like a practical measure that will benefit customers, but the Burton Group's Dan Golding is skeptical. "Microsoft and Cisco will cooperate until the moment they realize that competitive advantage lies in not cooperating," he told this week. … Redmond appears to be one-upping rivals IBM and Oracle in anticipation of next year's expected release of dual- and multi-core processors by chip giants Intel and AMD . This week, Microsoft pledged to charge its customers only for each physical processor, unlike competitors that charge per processing core, regardless of whether they share a single chip. … At the VON Conference & Expo on Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled plans for "Istanbul," the product code name for its communications client. The software promises to give users a single view of Outlook, instant messaging and even traditional telephone networks, said Live Communications Server director Andrew Sinclair. … SQL Server 2005 is in line for a third round of beta testing, which will get under way early next year. The database management software was originally targeted for a release at the end of this year, but Microsoft is now shooting for a ship date by the summer, said Microsoft senior vice president Paul Flessner. … Call him a bit optimistic, but Steve Ballmer is high on 64-bit computing. At the Gartner ITxpo on Wednesday, Microsoft's chief executive predicted that 64-bit computing "will be big" by 2006. That's when the software maker said it will be ready to release its 64-bit version of Windows. … Also giving a keynote at the Gartner conference in Orlando, Fla., this week was Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, who admitted that integrating his company's products with Microsoft's is proving to be more difficult than the two originally imagined when they signed a cooperation agreement earlier this year. Interoperability between Microsoft's Active Directory and Sun's Java Enterprise LDAP Directory is likely to be the first project the two complete. McNealy said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has been actively involved in the overall integration effort.

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