Microsoft Desktop Product Lifecycle Guidelines

Microsoft software is not on sale forever. If Microsoft were to rely on sales from a particular version of each of their products they wouldn't be in the software market let alone in the position of dominance that they hold. Microsoft rely on users of their products purchasing upgrade versions at regular intervals so as to maintain their income flow.

All Microsoft products go through the same product lifecycle. Although when you purchase software from Microsoft you can continue using it forever, Microsoft will not continue to sell or support that version after a given period of time.

All Microsoft software remains on sale for a period of five years from its release date. Throughout that period it should be possible to purchase a new copy of the software from somewhere as Microsoft will continue to supply the software for that period. It will gradually get more difficult to obtain as you get further into the period as most retailers will cease to stock most of this software within three years.

Microsoft also provide support for their software. The mainstream support options for Microsoft software extend for four years from the release date. During that time Microsoft will actively provide support for their products (although you may have to pay for that support). After that four years Microsoft will cease providing active support but the online support pages will continue to be accessible. Microsoft have said that they will give twelve months warning before removing the online support for a given product.

As most Microsoft products have a new version released about every two years, the active support usually equates to the latest two versions of a given software product.

So what does this mean to us? We have two choices. We can upgrade to a new version of the software every four to five years (or more frequently) or we can prepare to support the given software product ourselves after the Microsoft support period is over.

Why would we take this second option? Well apart from the cost saving in continuing to use software that is continuing to fulfill your requirements (why buy a new version when the current version does everything that you want?) there is an additional reason in the case of Microsoft's DOS/Windows operating system. Windows ME is the last ever version of this operating system. Microsoft have decided that they don't want to have to support two different (although for the most part compatible) operating systems as they have done since they introduced OS/2 in 1987. They have decided that their DOS based operating system should now be retired and everyone should move onto their other operating system. They have been trying to achieve this for some time and have renamed the other operating system several times in an attempt to win converts. When the IBM/Microsoft split occurred Microsoft renamed the new version of their OS/2 based operating system to Windows NT 3.1 to try to win converts from Windows 3.1 users. Two versions later they renamed it to Windows 2000 to try to win Windows 98 converts. The latest version is now called Windows XP and very soon Microsoft will cease to offer a choice. Everyone must switch across, switch to a less popular rival operating system, or support themselves with their existing DOS based operating system.

Assuming that you decide to go with supporting yourself there are two things that you will need to do while the Microsoft online support for your chosen operating system is still available. The first is to actually download all of the patches for your system. The Windows Update option downloads and installs fixes but does not keep a copy on your system. Check out the list of patches that you have downloaded via the Update option and find out the associated Microsoft code numbers. Search the Microsoft site to find downloadable copies of these patches (and any others that you think that you might need) and copy them to your system and then back them up. You don't need to install them at the moment (they are already installed) but you will need them the next time you reinstall the operating system.

The second thing you need to do is to print (or save on your computer) copies of all of the online documentation that you might find useful from the Microsoft site. You will need this to resolve any issues that you may have with your system after Microsoft remove those pages from their site.

When do you need to do this? How about doing it just before the end of the four year support period for your chosen version is due to expire (if the product is still current) or right this minute (if your chosen version as already passed its end of support date). The longer that you leave it the less likely that Microsoft will still have the information online. Of course other sites may also hold the information and you may be able to find what you are looking for using a good search engine but do you want to trust that someone else will be generous enough to share this information with you in years to come (and there are no guarantees that anyone else will back up the particular information that you are looking for in the first place).

So when does the support period for the various DOS based versions of Windows come to an end? Well some versions are there already and the rest will be soon. The end of support dates for the various versions are as follows:

Even at the time of writing this the last of these dates is not that far away particularly when you consider that many people prefer Windows SE instead of ME.

Oh, if you are wondering about the end of support dates for the OS/2 based versions of Windows they are as follows:

Of course Windows XP will also eventually cease to be supported but at least in this case Microsoft intend to continue to create new versions and so you will continue to have the option of upgrading to a later version of the same operating system.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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