Microsoft has said it would limit support for three versions of the Windows Vista operating system, including its most expensive, to five years rather than the usual 10 years.
The company defended the difference by noting that the clock just started ticking. "End of life-cycle support for Windows Vista is still five years out," a spokesperson said in an e-mail response.
However, the software maker left the door ajar. "As we've done in the past, Microsoft will continue to evaluate the support life cycle for Windows Vista and make decisions about extending support if and when it is necessary," the spokesperson added.
Although the corporate editions of Vista -- Business and Enterprise -- will be supported for the usual "5 + 5" span that includes five years of what Microsoft calls "mainstream" support and another five of "extended" support, the consumer versions currently have an end date of April 10, 2012. Vista Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate will stop receiving updates, even critical security updates, after that. Ultimate, which retails for US$499 (US$299 for an upgrade), is the priciest Vista edition, and is touted by Microsoft in its marketing materials as offering "all of the features found in Windows Vista Home Premium [and] also all of the features found in Windows Vista Business."
Vista Business and Vista Enterprise users will receive security updates into 2017.
The decision to cut off consumer Vista support after five years seems odd in light of a January move by Microsoft that added extended support to Windows XP Home and XP Media Center. Windows XP Home and XP Media Center, which were scheduled to drop off the support chart in mid-April 2009, were given an extension to April 2014.
At the time, Ines Vargas, Microsoft's director of support policy, said the decision had been made in part because the company recognized that consumers were keeping their computers for longer lengths of time.
On Tuesday, Microsoft explained its reason for extending XP while keeping Vista at five years. "Microsoft's decision to provide an extended support phase for Windows XP Home and Windows XP Media Center was limited to those specific versions of the OS," the spokesperson said. "Given that Windows Vista recently became available to consumers, it is premature to make any decisions about an extension of consumer support at this time."
Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said he knows why Microsoft is, at least for now, holding the Vista line at five years. "Because they're optimists, they think they will have Vista's replacement out in time to beat that deadline," Cherry said.
Likewise, the decision to extend XP support was taken for more reasons than keeping customers happy, Cherry added. "Microsoft was so late in getting Vista out, that there was a danger of XP falling off support within a very short time."
Microsoft posts its support schedule for the various versions of Windows here.