Microsoft Corp. has cut another tie to its past and, in the process, angered yet another group of legacy customers.
The Redmond, Wash., software company last week confirmed its decision to make its forthcoming Office 11 suite compatible with only Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 or later operating systems, including Windows XP. The move will affect as much as 60 percent of Microsofts installed base of pre-SP3 users.
Customers said this latest attempt by Microsoft to force them into upgrading follows the companys past moves to phase out support for older products and to push users to upgrade to its new licensing agreements.
Two weeks ago, Microsoft detailed a new life-cycle support policy for all its products, in which Windows 95 will reach its end-of-life, or unsupported, status, at the end of this year, and Windows 98 and Windows NT 4 will become completely unsupported at the end of June 2004.
"Its a little frustrating to learn that now we have to upgrade the NT operating system on some of our PCs before we can move to the next version of Office. I think their timing stinks on this one," said an IS director for an accounting and consulting company in Pennsylvania, adding that the moves make Linux and Sun Microsystems Inc.s StarOffice more attractive as alternatives to Microsoft products. "I would have preferred they announce their life-cycle policies and which platforms they would be developing for before their licensing deadline so I could have made a more informed decision," said the director, who requested anonymity.
Microsoft officials admit the decision not to support older products based on the Windows 95, 98 and Millennium Edition code base will not be popular with some customers but said the moves are necessary to create a more stable and better product.
Another reason for the lack of support for older Windows versions, officials said, is to improve security across Microsofts product line, confirming what many users have long known. "Windows 9x is inherently insecure," Sloan Crayton, a member of the Microsoft Office beta support team, told testers last week. "It also takes quite a bit of development time to make our products work well on Windows 9x. We determined that it would be more effective to spend that time making our products work better on the more advanced platforms." However, such explanations do little to help users who may want to upgrade Office but are running older Windows platforms.
"Microsoft has determined that it can ignore the tens of millions of customers that run Windows 95, ME, 98 and 98 Second Edition with Office 11. Quite simply, then, my 15,000 PCs will remain on Office 2000," said a Microsoft customer at an international transport company in Illinois who requested anonymity. "Microsoft clearly does not need the extra few billion in revenue that customers like us would bring to the market. We are happy with the products we have and will not be upgrading to Windows XP," she said.
Another customer in Groton, Mass., said he smells "a lock-in strategy that I think companies will be extremely reluctant to commit to." In combination with Microsofts new license agreements, the Office 11 strategy "spells doom for any user wishing to preserve whatever modicum of self-determination remains," said the customer, who also requested anonymity. He said there are no compelling technical reasons to prefer Windows 2000 SP3 over SP2, adding that the net effect was to "tighten Microsofts control over my computer. ... Im staying with Office 2000 and Visual Studio 6," he said.
A Microsoft spokesman said Office 11 is aimed at midsize and large businesses, many of which were already using Windows 2000 or Windows XP.
"Our customers told us they wanted security and reliability, and we are giving them that," the spokesman said. "We are confident the products continue to offer compelling value and will continue to do so going forward."