Microsoft has bowed to pressure from the US banking industry and agreed to extend security software and support for Windows NT 4.0 beyond the program's official end-of-year retirement deadline.
The move is part of an effort by Washington-based banking industry consortium Bits to force software vendors to provide a higher "duty of care" on sales to the financial services sector.
Microsoft's decision to withdraw support for Windows NT 4.0 and force an upgrade to the Windows 2000 server family has angered the nation's banks. A survey of community banks conducted in 2002 found 59% of respondents still running servers on NT 4.0.
Over the past six months, Bits has been pressurising Microsoft on the issue, placing it within the context of the consortium's overall initiative to improve software security and make the patch-management process more efficient and less costly for organisations.
Thomas Renyi, chairman and chief executive officer of The Bank of New York and chairman of the BITS board of directors, welcomed the breakthrough: "Our collaboration with Microsoft represents a significant step in ensuring the safety and soundness of our customers' critical infrastructures and ultimately helping protect a key segment of the national economy."
Under the agreement, Microsoft will offer "specialised support" for NT 4.0 to provide financial institutions and other customers with security updates for an extended period "during which they will migrate their systems to more recent versions of Windows". The vendor has also agreed to provide localised expertise and assistance to customers when installing security updates and implementing system changes.
Bits and Microsoft are extending the dialogue to address other banking industry concerns about operating system security and patch management, with more announcements expected over the coming months.
Catherine Allen, CEO of Bits commended Microsoft for ramping up communications and service. "The company has demonstrated seriousness in addressing the concerns of the financial services industry," she says.