Windows XP enters the stage of life known as Extended Support this week, but IT administrators should have their eye on a Windows OS family near the end of the Extended Support road: Windows 2000 Server (in all its flavors) and Windows 2000 Professional.
For many organizations, XP's move to Extended Support won't mean much in the short term. Microsoft will continue to release free security updates for the desktop operating system (with the most recent service pack, SP3) through the usual channels until August 2014. What will change, however, is the availability of non-security-related hotfixes-from here on out, they will require the purchase of an Extended Hotfix Support Agreement, as well as payment of applicable per-fix fees.
During Extended Support, complimentary incident support is no more, but paid support will still be available via phone or Web. Also, XP customers will no longer be able to request product design or feature changes.
For many organizations, the continued availability of complimentary security hotfixes will be enough to keep the aging XP OS viable for a few more years, allowing companies more time to investigate and weigh the benefits of moving to Windows 7 once it ships.
Windows 2000 is a much more pressing issue, however: The server and desktop iterations will leave Extended Support on July 13, 2010, marking the end of security hotfix availability.
As Windows 2000 is generally susceptible to the same flaws as Windows XP, the lack of security patches for the older operating system will be a much more dire circumstance in need of more immediate attention. Indeed, the most recent Microsoft Security Bulletin for April 2009 contained three patches deemed Critical for Windows 2000 and another two rated Important.
As I was starkly reminded on a recent visit to a local hospital in San Francisco, many organizations will likely find Windows 2000 still maintains a healthy presence on the desktop or in the data center. Those companies would do well to soon start budgeting for a 2010 move to a newer Windows iteration (or another operating system altogether), keeping in mind that such a move will likely mean hardware as well as software upgrades.
And if such a move is in on the books for Windows 2000 systems, it makes sense to at the same time consider an upgrade for Windows XP desktops as well, to ease ongoing support.
In the meantime, IT implementers would do well to use Windows 2000 as a benchmark for Windows XP in its Extended Support period. Companies that paid for Hotfix Support Agreements for the older operating system should spend some time evaluating how Microsoft's support was utilized during this period, using that information to help guide the purchase decisions for Windows.