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Admins let out collective "whew" over NT reprieve

How do you spell relief? R-E-P-R-I-E-V-E if you're still using NT. Microsoft has decided to pull the plug on support later rather than sooner after customers complained. So does this mean Microsoft is really listening?

IT administrators appreciate Microsoft's willingness to bend to their wishes. The company said this week that it would extend support for NT one year beyond its current end-of-lifecycle date.

Microsoft's decision to extend NT's pay-per-incident support, which impacts customers without premiere support agreements, was welcome news in the 30% or 40% of enterprises that, by analysts' accounts, are still using some NT.

"I'm pleased that Microsoft listened to their customers and adjusted their support timeframes to meet customer needs," said Randy Robinson, vice president of IT at UnumProvident Corp., Chattanooga, Tenn. "The revised support deadlines will enable larger customers to complete their OS migration without having to take shortcuts or rush their testing processes."

The decision to continue paid support also came as some relief to Jeff Moller, a systems engineer at the Los Angeles offices of Global Technology manufacturing company. Moller is upgrading his servers to Windows 2000, but the migration is slow because, he said, many of the products the company uses require new versions or upgrades to support Windows 2000.

"If a system is doing fine, we don't like to change it," he said.

Microsoft had planned to end the support at the end of this year, but the company will now continue to issue hot fixes and security support until December 2004. Bob O'Brien, a program manager at Microsoft for Windows Server 2003, said that company was responding to customers who were in the process of migrating from NT to Windows 2000, and who said they felt uncomfortable having only part of their systems receiving support.

"We're trying to be sensitive to customers who, in this economy, are trying to make the most of their products," O'Brien added.

A similar number of customers are currently migrating from Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000, which is taking some of them longer than anticipated because the migration to Active Directory is more difficult to work with than the domains used with NT servers.

Though O'Brien said he couldn't speak for the Exchange lifecycle, he said it wasn't unreasonable to expect that the company won't listen hard and take action if necessary.

Platforms like NT and Exchange 5.5 are stable, and there undoubtedly would be less commotion over the end of its lifecycle if not for the fact that there have been so many security compromises. Customers believe that if support ends, they won't get fixes to major security bugs, said Peter Pawlak, senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., consulting firm.

There is no end to the cleverness of people who want to wreak havoc on some customers, and these customers want to know that if there is a problem, then Microsoft will respond and issue patches, he said.

And now Microsoft is in a tough spot, because the company wants to have a standard policy for how it will retire products, Pawlak said. "I thought when they announced [the product lifecycle], that that would be it, but they caved on customer complaints," he said. "Now, will this be the exception or will we see others?"


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