Microsoft: We’re not ditching Vista until at least 2011

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) will not dump Vista when Windows 7launches and plans to keep selling it to computer makers, system builders,volume licensees and consumers at retail until at least January 2011, aMicrosoft spokesman said, citing long-running policy.

The company, however, will drop support for the three consumer editions ofWindows Vista in less than three years.

Earlier Monday, a Microsoft general manager hinted to the IDG News Servicethat the company might ditch Vista as soon as Windows 7 ships. He also saidthat support for all versions of Vista will end in April 2012.Neither is true, according to the company.

Richard Francis, general manager and Windows client business group lead atMicrosoft Asia-Pacific, told the news service Monday that, “We are still notsure if [computer makers] will be able to ship Vista once Windows 7 is madeavailable.” The comment fueled speculation that Microsoft, embarrassed bythe poor reception given to Vista, was getting ready to abandon theoperating system at the first opportunity.

Not so.

In a follow-up reply to questions today, a Microsoft spokeswoman declined toconfirm that the company would, in fact, dump Vista when Windows 7 appears.

“We have not made any final end-of-sales decisions for Windows Vista,” shesaid in an e-mail.

But she also pointed out that Microsoft’s policy is to keep an OS indistribution for at least four years after its debut. “Under the SupportLifecycle policy, Windows desktop licenses are available for four yearsafter general availability in all standard product distribution channels –direct OEM, system builders, retail and volume licensing programs vialicenses or via downgrade rights,” Microsoft’s Web site states.For Vista, that mark would be January 2011 — four years after its January2007 launch.

Even without that policy, it would be a sharp departure from past practiceif Microsoft did drop Vista shortly after Windows 7 shipped. According toComputerworld’s analysis of Windows 95’s, Windows 98’s and Windows XP’stransition periods — the time span during which the company sold both oldand new versions — Microsoft has never offered less than a six-monthoverlap. When Windows 98 was released in June 1998, for example, itspredecessor, Windows 95, was kept on the OEM and retail rolls fortwo-and-a-half years. Windows 98, however, was available for just six monthsafter the 2001 launch of its successor, Windows XP.

“Windows 7 has the potential to not be met with the same resistance asVista,” said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. “Butto try to stop Vista or make it unavailable, that would just drawattention,” he added. “The truth is, few people will be likely to order itonce Windows 7 is available.”

The situation with Windows 7 following Vista will be quite different fromthe preceding pair of Vista and Windows XP. The latter, which will beavailable as a factory-installed downgrade option from most OEMs through theend of July 2009, is clearly an anomaly, said Cherry. “This willself-regulate on its own,” he added, referring to the availabilitytransition. He pointed to XP’s numerous extensions as an example.As for Vista support, Microsoft’s Francis got that wrong as well, thecompany spokeswoman confirmed.

Three editions of the operating system — Vista Home Basic, Home Premium andUltimate — do drop out of what Microsoft calls “mainstream” support onApril 10, 2012, approximately five years after Vista’s retail debut. Becausethey’re considered “consumer” operating systems, Microsoft does not providewhat it calls “extended” support to those versions, meaning it plans to endall support for those editions in under three years.

However, the two editions aimed at business, Vista Business and VistaEnterprise, receive an additional five years of extended support, for atotal of 10 years. Business and Enterprise — the latter is available onlyto companies that have volume licensing agreements with Microsoft — willthus be offered security updates until April 11, 2017.

Microsoft’s mainstream support delivers free fixes — for security patchesand other bug fixes — to everyone, but during extended support,non-security hot fixes are provided only to companies that have signedsupport contracts with Microsoft. Security patches, however, are stillgenerated in extended support.

“I don’t see Microsoft changing those dates for Vista,” said Cherry.”They’re triggered by the release of the product.”

Microsoft, which will deliver the Windows 7 Release Candidate (RC) to thegeneral public tomorrow, has not named a launch date for the new operatingsystem. Comparisons to the timetables for Windows XP and Vista, however,have pegged a ship date that could come as early as August 2009.

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