Customers will still be able to turn to self-help online, but a help-desk will no longer be accessible and the company will not patch the operating system if new bugs or security issues surface.
Microsoft customers running Windows NT 4.0 Server still have a window of support, however. In January, Microsoft decided to extend telephone support and continue issuing patches through Dec. 31, 2003, because more than 25 percent of its customers had yet to upgrade from that operating system.
Under the product life-cycle policy, products move through three distinct support phases. The first is "mainstream support," which exists for five years after general availability. Windows NT 4.0 Workstation was made generally available on July 29, 1996. Under the mainstream support phase, customers can access Microsoft's standard support offerings, including no-charge incident support, paid incident support, support charged on an hourly basis, support for warranty claims, hotfix support, and online self-help support information.
Between five and seven years after general availability, customers can access "extended support," which includes support that may be charged on an hourly basis, and can include hotfix support. Microsoft's policy says it will not accept requests for warranty support, design changes, or new features during the extended phase.
Finally, in the eighth year after general availability, Microsoft continues to make its online self-help support information, including Windows Update, available. During that period, Windows Update will not support auto-updating and will not be updated with new fixes.
Microsoft's Windows 98 operating system is also approaching a support milestone. The operating system, which Microsoft made generally available on June 30, 1998, will no longer receive no-charge assisted support as of Tuesday. Like Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, it will be laid to rest on January 15, 2004.