New Microsoft support scheme scraps decade pledge

Support for enterprise software and services covered by 'Modern Lifecycle' can be terminated with 12 months' notice

More than a month ago, Microsoft quietly added a new support policy that dropped the company's decade of technical support for an open-ended product lifetime that could be terminated at Microsoft's discretion.

Wes Miller, analyst with Directions on Microsoft, viewed the new policy -- dubbed "Modern Lifecycle" -- as a glimpse into the future of support from the Redmond, Wash. company.

"For more than a year, since Microsoft talked about LTSB [Long-term Servicing Branch], we've all been wondering what the plan was," said Miller, referring to the Windows 10 release track available only to enterprise customers. "There was the usual 5+5 support with LTSB-style releases, and then there was everything else. Now, we know how support works for everything else."

With LTSB, Microsoft gave enterprises the option of running a stable, static version of Windows 10 that would avoid the frequent updates other editions would receive. Microsoft pledged to support Windows 10 LTSB for the traditional 10 years, the first five in "Mainstream" support, the second in "Extended" support.

Microsoft introduced the Modern policy with zero fanfare on its support lifecycle website by posting a terse announcement and a short FAQ.

Unlike the standard 5+5 support scheme, under which Microsoft pledges to support a product for a decade, Modern is both open-ended and ephemeral.

"There is no end of support date assigned," Microsoft said of products under the Modern umbrella. But in the next sentence, Microsoft noted that, while support may be indefinite -- or in other words, unlimited -- it reserved the right to dump the product, and any support, at any time. "Microsoft will provide a minimum of 12 months' prior notification before ending support for products governed by the Modern Policy without providing a successor product or service," the company said.

The prerequisite for Modern's theoretically unlimited support? Customers must keep the product up to date, which Microsoft dubbed "stay current." As long as the software was current, Microsoft pledged to support it. "To stay current, a customer must accept all servicing updates and apply them within a specific timeframe, per the licensing and service requirements for the product or service," the Modern FAQ read.

The "stay current" concept is not brand new to Microsoft customers: That's how most Windows 10 users are treated. Consumers, for instance, really don't have a choice, but must accept all updates as they arrive. Businesses not on the LTSB track have some flexibility in that they can postpone updates and even upgrades, but the delays are only temporary. Eventually, everyone must take an update or upgrade.

Only a few Microsoft products are currently covered by Modern support. According to Redmond Magazine, which wrote about the Modern policy on Tuesday, they include System Center Configuration Manager (current branch), .Net Core, ASP.Net Core and Entity Framework Core.

Microsoft made it clear that Modern would not be applied retroactively to already-existing products or services covered by the 5+5 policy or the alternate, Online Services. The latter applies to such money makers as Office 365.

"The Modern Lifecycle Policy will not be applied to on-premises product versions that have already been released with a different lifecycle policy," the FAQ said.

But while enterprises may be comforted by Microsoft's pledge, it was clear to Miller that the Modern policy was the future. "Going forward, some enterprise-class products will continue [with] 5+5 support," he said. "But there will be another class which is released and serviced on a different cadence. [For that class], support will be at Microsoft's discretion, as defined by Microsoft."

Microsoft did not explain why it instituted the Modern support policy, but Miller had an idea. "They're under pressure to release stuff more often, so they have to have customers on the most recent version," he said, referring to the requirement that users keep updating software.

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