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Microsoft to offer broader support for older software

The company expands its paid custom support for products that are no longer widely supported; customers will pay per machine.

Microsoft plans to offer a longer lifeline to customers that use the company's older products.

The software maker on Monday announced changes to its paid custom support program that will allow users to get that type of support longer. Customers will pay only for each machine that is using the older software, rather than paying a hefty flat fee.

"This provides customers with a greater degree of choice and ability to plan for their migrations," said Ines Vargas, director of support policy at Microsoft.

Microsoft has already changed its support policies to offer five years of mainstream support and an additional five years of more limited, paid support, known as "extended support," on its business and developer products.

Custom support is what kicks in after that. The company has offered custom support in the past, such as for Windows NT 4. The company initially pledged only one year of support but later extended that to two years.

"We will no longer announce support for one year at a time," Vargas said. "Our customers kept telling us that sort of extension every year really is not working from a predictability and planning perspective."

Under the new program, Microsoft will add at least a third year of paid support for NT 4, though Vargas said only a handful of customers are expected to choose that option. The company is also in its second year of custom support for Exchange 5.5, while Windows XP Service Pack 1 will enter custom support in October. Windows XP is still in the mainstream support phase, but customers are required to move to the latest service pack of a product within two years.

Going forward, Microsoft will offer three years of custom support and will announce pricing for the program at the outset of those three years. Custom support also may not be limited to just three years.

Although it will now be more broadly available from Microsoft, custom support is still a pricey option. Businesses must already be paying for Microsoft's top-level "premier support" for a product and also pay custom support fees that often are more than the cost of licensing the new product. In addition, customers have to put in place a migration plan showing how and when they are moving to a newer product.

Such support generally is chosen by companies that have a particular application that requires the older version. Microsoft will now offer custom support as long as there is demand for it, but Vargas said such programs will not be indefinite.

"As the price escalates, there comes a point in time where it just does not make sense for anybody," Vargas said.