January 27, 2003 10:30 AM PST

Microsoft extends NT's life

Microsoft on Monday added another year of life to its aging Windows NT 4 operating system as the company struggles to convert customers to newer products.

The software giant said it is extending support for Windows NT 4 Server for an additional 12 months. The change means that network administrators will be able to get security patches and "hot fixes" until Dec. 31, 2004. Microsoft had planned to pull the plug on these and other updates later this year.

Still, support for many types of updates will end Dec. 31 of this year. The extension applies strictly to hot fixes--patches that typically address bugs--and security fixes, Microsoft confirmed Monday.

The change comes as Microsoft struggles to get NT 4 users, which represent about 15 percent of the Windows install base, to upgrade to newer versions of Windows. Microsoft released Windows NT 4 Server in 1996 and successor Windows 2000 Server in February 2000. The company plans to release Windows 2003 Server in April.

"That's probably an indication Microsoft is getting enough push-back from customers that they don't want to rock the boat more than they have," said Al Gillen, an IDC analyst.

Still, the support extension is surprising, because Microsoft "is convinced Windows 2003 Server offers customers enough reasons to get off Windows NT 4," Gillen said.

"I don't buy into that theory myself," he added. "But that change seems to be contradictory." If Microsoft believes Windows 2003 Server will get the NT 4 Server users to upgrade, "why extend support? There seems to be a bit of a contradictory messaging there," Gillen said.

Microsoft discontinued Windows NT 4 Server in October 2001, but has continued to supply updates to businesses. The Redmond, Wash.-based technology titan ended mainstream support for Windows NT 4 Server on Dec. 31. But as part of an overhaul of product life cycles, Microsoft in October committed to issuing security updates and hot fixes through the end of 2003, as part of the period of extended support. Typically, customers pay extra for nonsecurity fixes during the extended support period.

NT 4's support extension comes as Microsoft SQL Server database customers battle a fast-spreading worm that choked Internet traffic over the weekend. Microsoft first issued a patch protecting against the worm, known as SQL Slammer, in July 2002. But many SQL Server customers failed to install the update, which Microsoft also included with other security fixes.

Microsoft does not issue security patches for products the company no longer supports. The extension of NT 4's support period could be an important move from a security policy decision.

"I would see that (extension) as a positive for the customers," Gillen said. "Many business customers don't like making an upgrade just because a software vendor tells them they have to."

 

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