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Microsoft pledges longer support for products

In a turnaround, it's promising to support business and developer software for at least 10 years. Also in the works: better security and antispam features.

SAN DIEGO--Microsoft revealed a new long-term support policy on Tuesday, along with upcoming technologies to boost security and reduce spam.

Speaking at TechEd, the software giant's annual conference for information technology administrators, Andy Lees, vice president of the company's server and tools business, said Microsoft will now guarantee a minimum of 10 years of support for all business and developer products.

Microsoft currently cuts off its most basic level of support after eight years. The company has been widely criticized for dropping support for older products that are still widely used, including versions of the Windows operating system.

Lees said the new policy would provide more reliability for corporate customers. "From the time of shipment, you can guarantee a much more predictable level of support," he said.

Lees also promised a number of advances on the e-mail front, especially when it comes to cutting down on junk e-mail.

The company will now give all customers the option of installing Intelligent Message Filtering, a spam-blocking add-on for the company's Exchange 2003 e-mail server. The filters previously were available only to those enrolled in the controversial Software Assurance licensing plan.

"We remain completely committed to software assurance," Kim Akers, the senior director of Exchange, said of the IMF change. The change is part of the release of Service Pack 1, the first major collection of updates for Exchange 2003. "But given the customer needs we're seeing around spam, we decided IMF needed to be available to all customers," Akers said.

Lees also promised future enhancements in spam blocking through E-mail Caller ID, a system Microsoft is working on to verify the sender of a message, thus enabling people to block "spoofed" junk messages. Microsoft plans to deliver the technology next year in Exchange Edge Services, a security-focused add-on for Exchange. It announced Tuesday that it is working with antispam company Pobox.com to develop a "caller ID" standard for e-mail.

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Lees also gave the first public demonstrations of several new security technologies, most notably a new "client inspection and isolation" tool, planned for the next major update of Windows Server 2003.

The tool automatically inspects PCs trying to connect to a corporate network--including those using the often troublesome virtual private network technology for remote connections--to ensure that the machine is properly configured for basic security. If the PC is found lacking a security feature--for example, if the firewall is switched off or if the antivirus software is out-of-date--the server can remotely update it before allowing the PC to connect to the network.

"It really helps you secure the perimeter," Lees said. "You get to frisk the client, make sure it's clean...before you let it into your network."

Lees also announced expected enhancements for Microsoft's SQL Server database software and identity management in Windows Server 2003.