Don't Miss Last Call to Ditch NT 4By Larry Seltzer | Posted 2004-12-02 Email Print
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Opinion: With Microsoft pulling the support plug on Windows NT 4 on Jan. 1, it's time to stop waiting and start migrating.Sometimes it's really sad to see a product die. And then there's Windows NT 4.
Yes, it seemed like a good product when it came out, and maybe it was. But Windows 2000 was a much, much better one, and it's been out for about five years now. Customers have had enough time to extricate themselves from reliance on Windows NT 4, and on Jan. 1, 2005, when the ball drops, Microsoft drops all support for Windows NT 4.
Don't believe me? It's very old news, but read the Microsoft policy: "January 1, 2005Beginning on this date, Pay-per-incident and Premier support will no longer be available. This includes security hotfixes."
But surely it's not really an issue anymore, right? After so many years what can they find that hadn't been found before? In fact, this is the most common rhetorical excuse for not moving on from NT 4.0if it's not broken, why fix it?
Really bad idea, and news still on the front pages makes it clear why. Many, perhaps most, of the NT 4.0 networks out there rely on WINS (Windows Internet Naming Service), in which an enormous security hole has just been found.
If a hole this serious can be found after all these years, who's to say there aren't other bugs of similar severity. In fact, I'd assume there are such bugs. My guess is that Microsoft will not patch this WINS bug in NT 4.0. There is just one regularly scheduled patch day left in 2004, on Dec. 14, and there probably isn't enough time, given the testing Microsoft usually puts into such patches, to fix it in time for that. And since the flaw is at the protocol level, it may be a more complicated problem to fix than a simple unchecked buffer.
So to fix it, Microsoft will likely have to break their policy stated above and issue a security fix in 2005. This sounds like a bad-enough precedent that I don't expect them to do it. It is arguably, from their point of view, just another good reason for NT 4 users to upgrade, and they'd be right to say so.
Living with Windows NT 4 is like driving a car without seat belts. It's not safe, even if the car continues to run well. Don't wait for a disaster to find out the hard way.
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.
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