I noticed over at Ars Technica that Microsoft has standardized the support life cycle for its software products. New support life cycles include periods of mainstream and extended technical support; here's how Microsoft breaks it down:
Business and Development Software Microsoft will offer a minimum of five years of mainstream support* from the date of a product’s general availability. After the end of mainstream support, you have the option to purchase two years of extended support**. Additionally, most products will receive at least eight years of online self-help support. Visit the Locate Your Product page to find the support timelines for your particular product.It should be noted that the "self-help support" appears to include anything that you can find on Microsoft's official support site. Also, it looks like everyone will at least have access to security patches for the full extended support period, regardless of whether you've paid for extended support.
Consumer/Hardware/Multimedia Microsoft will offer a minimum of five years of mainstream* support from the date of a product’s general availability. Product's with a new version released annually (for example, Money, Encarta, Picture It!, Streets & Trips) will receive a minimum of three years of mainstream* support from their date of availability. Additionally, most products will receive at least eight years of online self-help support. Xbox games are not currently included in the Product Support Lifecycle Policy.
Microsoft has made it easy to check the mainstream and extended support expiration dates for its products. If you're running Windows 95, you might want to upgrade, since its extended support period runs out at the end of November. That could create problems for some, since copies of Windows 95 are floating around on countless older home and business PCs.
Laying out support expiration dates does raise an interesting question: just how long should a software company be required to provide free support for its products? Is it reasonable to ask for support periods that include security patches for longer than the seven years Microsoft is providing with something like Windows 2000?
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