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Microsoft offers special NT 4.0 support for banks

BITS, a financial services consortium, will deliver specialized Windows NT 4.0 security support to its constituency under a new agreement with Microsoft.

Microsoft will work closely with financial institutions to help shore up their IT infrastructures, and as part of that program, it will provide some security updates to the NT 4.0 desktop and server platform.

The software company said on Monday it has formed an alliance with BITS, a Washington-based consortium of about 100 U.S.-based financial institutions. As part of the deal, which involves helping financial customers improve system security and patch management in general, Microsoft said it would provide some security updates for an extended period as customers continue their migrations off of the Windows NT 4.0 platform.

Microsoft is ending security support for NT 4.0 Workstation on June 30. NT Server 4.0 incident and security hotfix support will end on Dec. 31.

The extra support is great news for the banks, which were among the first customers to go with

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Windows NT 4.0 on the desktop, said Kent Smith, chairman of the Boston Area Windows Server User Group. "They are security paranoid, and frankly, people are out to get them," he said.

Most of the support will likely be required on the desktop, since the vast majority of the nation's financial institutions use Unix- or Linux-based servers for their mainstay transaction processing and production environments. NT servers are mainly used for file and print sharing, Smith said.

Smith said the only negative side to this arrangement is that Microsoft resources are going to be spent patching up holes in a system that has been compromised for years. "It would really be better if people would upgrade off [of NT]," Smith said. "But the upgrade is such a painful process and it makes sense for Microsoft not to force people off."

Microsoft has been trying to gain inroads into the financial services market, but it's been difficult changing the perception that it's not up to the task on the server side in the data center. Smith said one reason is because Microsoft ends support for its operating system platforms more quickly than some other vendors.

Sun Microsystems Inc., for example, lets customers buy a premium option so they can have support for a longer duration, and then the company offers its source code if customers want it, he said.

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