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 its 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.
Dont believe me? Its very old news, but read the Microsoft policy: "January 1, 2005—Beginning on this date, Pay-per-incident and Premier support will no longer be available. This includes security hotfixes."
Then it says: "January 1, 2005 (or later) —Online support will no longer be available." You wont even have Knowledge Base articles anymore! (On December 3, 2004 Microsoft changed the date for the end of online support to January 1, 2007.)
The funny thing is, I fully expect plenty of people to express shock that such a thing has been happening. The announcements in the Microsoft document above were made in November 2001. And Windows NT 4.0 was released in 1996; a life span of nearly nine years is very long for a software product. You should feel lucky you got support from them for this long. Who else continues to provide patches for their products after so long? Very few companies.
But surely its not really an issue anymore, right? After so many years what can they find that hadnt been found before? In fact, this is the most common rhetorical excuse for not moving on from NT 4.0—if its 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, whos to say there arent other bugs of similar severity. In fact, Id 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 isnt 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 dont expect them to do it. It is arguably, from their point of view, just another good reason for NT 4 users to upgrade, and theyd be right to say so.
Living with Windows NT 4 is like driving a car without seat belts. Its not safe, even if the car continues to run well. Dont 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.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include reference to Microsofts change of the date for end of online support.
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