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Microsoft seems to have finally cottoned onto the fact that it can drive revenue from the use of legacy software by some of its largest customers, announcing on Aug. 28 a new Custom Support Agreement program.

The new CSA plan extends Microsoft’s current product support program, which offers five years of mainstream support followed by an additional five years of paid, extended support.

But not all Microsoft products will be available for a CSA.

“Install base, technical and financial feasibility will be the criteria used to identify products eligible for this type of coverage,” said Ines Vargas, the director of support policy at Microsoft.

Microsoft will publish the eligible products 12 months before the end of support for each of them.

The first products to be implemented into the new CSA program will be NT 4.0, XP SP1 and Exchange 5.5, Vargas said.

Click here to read more about how Microsoft has previously extended its product support lifecycle.

While the new CSA program is effective Aug. 28, the timing for when specific products will be available varies, starting in October for Windows XP SP 1 and in January 2007 for NT 4.0 and Exchange 5.5.

However, the new CSA program does not come cheap. It is only available to those customers who already have a Premier Support agreement with Microsoft, and only if they have a migration plan in place for moving onto newer versions of those products being supported.

“Microsoft is offering this program for customers in an effort to provide greater predictability and flexibility for customers … The goal of the program is to provide customers with an opportunity to self-define the end of support for the product they are using based upon their needs and budget. They decide when it’s the right time to migrate to newer products,” Vargas said.

But this expanded support will be priced per machine rather than as a single flat-fee, reducing the cost for those with a smaller number of machines running the older software.

“Pricing is on a per-device basis, with minimum and maximum fees that recognize the investment customers make in reducing their dependency on older product versions. Additionally, customers will find a price increase year over year, which addresses both the decrease of the customer base, and the increase in costs to support legacy products,” Vargas said.

This is not the first time Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., has offered custom support for legacy products.

It also made this available for Windows NT 4, initially offering just one year of support, which it later extended by another year.

While Al Gillen, a vice president for system software at research group International Data Corp., recommends that customers move forward to newer products before mainstream support expires, he notes that some large organizations and enterprise companies face challenges such as regulatory compliance restrictions and financial constraints, which make migration and porting of applications more difficult.

“Microsoft’s expansion of Premier Support with Custom Support options offers these customers more flexibility, predictability and control over their IT environments, allowing them to migrate their systems based on their specific situation,” he said.

The goal of the program is to help customers better manage their IT environments and give them more options when making product migration decisions, Vargas said; the program follows six months of gathering customer feedback, conducting customer focus groups and evaluating the program.

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