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The lifecycle clock is ticking for a number of older versions of Windows.

At the end of every calendar year, Microsoft pushes more products out to pasture. The company revised its support policy last October so that it now offers a minimum of five years of “mainstream support” (measured from the date of a product’s general availability) for all its business and developer products.(The time period is shorter for consumer, hardware, multimedia and Microsoft Business Solutions wares.)

At the end of mainstream support, business and developer software customers have the option of purchasing up to two years of “extended support.” After that time, users need to become self-supporting, relying on online help and knowledge base articles if they need assistance.

Here are some of the products for which support D-days are fast approaching:

  • Windows ME: As of December 31, Microsoft will terminate mainstream support for Windows Millennium Edition (Windows ME). Extended support for ME ends one year later, on December 31, 2004.
  • Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition: Extended support ends for both of these products on January 16, 2004. Microsoft acknowledged earlier this month that it also is removing Windows 98 from all of its sales channels as of December 23, citing the terms from its legal settlement with Sun Microsystems over Java as the impetus.
  • Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server and Option Pack: As with Windows 98, Microsoft is removing these two versions of NT 4.0 from all of its sales channels, as of December 23, citing the Sun Java lawsuit as the cause. Microsoft says it will release updated versions of NT 4.0 Workstation, Server and Enterprise Server, sans the Java Virtual Machine, so as to avoid phasing these products out early.
  • IE 6 for XP: Mainstream support for Internet Explorer 6 on Windows XP Home and XP Professional already ended on December 31, 2001. But the extended support for these two products will terminate around mid-2004, simultaneous with the commercial availability of Windows XP SP2.
  • Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Windows 2000 Client Access Licenses (CALs): While mainstream support doesn’t end for these products until March 31, 2005, Microsoft is beginning to phase them out of the sales channels starting at the end of the first calendar quarter of 2004. Retail and volume-licensing availability of these products ends on March 31, 2004. OEMs are required to stop selling these products, as well as Windows 2000 Datacenter, on November 1, 2004.

    Customers who want to stick with older releases, such as Windows 2000 Server, do have some recourse, Microsoft officials acknowledge. Under Microsoft’s volume licensing plans, they can exercise their “downgrade rights,” by purchasing the latest version of Windows Server (2003) and then request permission to get the disks for the older, still-supported versions.