Windows Support Lifecycles

As we all know, Microsoft ceased support for Windows XP in April of this year

XP logoThis means that any new security weaknesses discovered in XP will not be rectified. All of the publicity about the end of XP has prompted people to ask “when will Vista be pensioned off?” and even “what about Windows 7?” Well, users of those operating systems can relax – for a short while, at least.

Actually, there’s no big secret about these things. Microsoft publish the information. Each version of its products (including all the Windows versions) goes through certain stages between introduction and final demise. Taken together, these stages are known as the Support Lifecycle.

There are two main phases of support – Mainstream Support and Extended Support. You can see the types of support offered during these phases by referring to the table below(source: Microsoft).

Support is generally offered for the version of the product (eg Windows Vista) that has had the latest “service pack” applied. Service Packs are updates to the program that include all of the individual fixes, patches, and updates that have become available since the previous Service Pack was released. It is always best to have the latest available Service Pack installed. If you have your Windows set up so that updates are automatically received then the latest Service Pack should be installed automatically.

What is the difference between mainstream support and extended support?

Microsoft Support Lifecycle Phases

Items marked with a star are only available to organisations who sign up to special “Premier” support deals. (Source: Microsoft)

The cut-off date, after which the support phase finishes, is defined by the lifecycle policy laid out by Microsoft. Click on this link for more information about the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy .

Luckily, we normal people don’t have to concern ourselves with the details of the policy as Microsoft have published the dates of the lifecycle “landmarks” for each of their products. You can find the relevant dates for any of their products by clicking this link to Microsoft Products Lifecycles and then clicking on the link to the relevant product.

If we follow the link for Windows Vista, for instance, we find that mainstream support for Vista Business ended on 10/04/2012. We are now in the “Extended Support” period for this product. This means that no new features will be announced and updates will generally relate only to security issues.

Then, on 10/04/17 we’ll go through the same thing with Windows Vista that we went through with Windows XP in April of this year. In other words, Microsoft will stop patching any new holes that are discovered in the security of the product and people like me will be telling you that it is no longer safe to use the product on a machine connected to the internet.

Windows XP TombstoneWhether you continue to use the product after that date is for you to decide. “End of Support” does not mean that the product will stop working or will self-destruct or anything of that nature. It just means that any new bugs or (more significantly) any new security weaknesses, will not be addressed and rectified by Microsoft. This leaves the software wide open to exploitation by the bad guys out there who are trying to get into your computer to steal your information, hijack your internet connection, hold you to ransom, or place viruses on your computer.

So, there you have it. It’s quite easy to check just when your Microsoft product will be consigned to history, so you’ve got plenty of time to plan ahead and make sure you’re not left with an unsupported product. Haven’t you?

… and if reading this blog nudges just one of my computer support clients into replacing their (unsupported) XP, then it will all have been worthwhile!