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End of support for Microsoft operating systems drawing near

Here's what the channel can do to help customers with upgrades and migration towards the latest service packs and Windows 7

As end of support for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) operating systems, Windows XP SP2, Vista RTM, Windows Server 2000 and Windows 2000 Professional draws near, Microsoft executives want customers to know they should upgrade to the latest service pack or migrate to Windows 7 if they want to stay up-to-date and continue to receive support.

On April 13, 2010, Windows Vista with no service packs installed will reach the end of support. On July 13, 2010, Windows XP SP2 Windows 2000 Professional and Windows Server 2000 will reach end of support, and also on this day, Windows Server 2003 will switch from mainstream support to extended support. The main change with extended support is that there aren’t any more “no-charge” support options and Microsoft will no longer be providing any new non-security hot-fixes.

Elliot Katz, senior product manager for Windows client at Microsoft, said with end of support, Microsoft will no longer provide support or updates for the above versions, unless customers install the latest service packs or upgrade to Windows 7.

“The main impact on end-users when a product reaches end of support is that updates which include security patches are no longer delivered to the operating systems,” Katz explained. “We want customers to know they can upgrade to SP3 (with Windows XP) or Windows 7. SP3 is a free download, but if customers don’t have the bandwidth, they can order the DVD from us and just pay the shipping and handling.”

Since Windows Server 2003 will be transitioning from mainstream to extended support, Carol Terentiak, senior partner development manager at Microsoft Canada, says partners should be having conversations with their customers to answer any technology or roadmap-related questions.

“Our partners are up to speed on our technologies and they’ve always been encouraging our customers to upgrade and migrate as needed,” Terentiak said. “We trust our partners to go in and have conversations with their customers to figure out what’s best for them and to discuss the path they’ll take.”

Since Windows 7 was released last fall, Katz says more than 90 million licenses for the operating system has been sold worldwide to date.

“From a Microsoft operating system perspective, Windows 7 is the fastest release we’ve ever had,” he said.

Brian Bourne, president of Toronto-based IT services company, CMS Consulting, a Microsoft Gold Certified channel partner, said with regards to his customers migrating to Windows 7, their biggest concern is around application compatibility.

“There isn’t a business out there that doesn’t have an old application that they’re relying on to do a part of their business,” Bourne said. “The last experience these businesses would have had with an operating system rollout would have been Windows XP. Over the last few years, operating processes, tools and technology has come a long way. Customers are concerned about the complexity of the process and about working through the compatibility scenarios (with Windows 7).”

Alex Chan, vice-president of sales at CMS, said the company helps customers understand how things will work once they upgrade or migrate to a given system.

“We offer deployment planning sessions to show customers how things would work,” Chan said. “Customers are looking for leadership and guidance on which tools are available and what the next steps will be.”

From a Microsoft perspective, Katz says the company is also encouraging end-users to turn on Windows Update and to upgrade to IE8 (Internet Explorer 8) Web browser, in addition to downloading Microsoft Security Essentials to ensure their PCs stay up-to-date.