Microsoft dropped free support this week for Windows XP and Office 2003, leaving state and local governments wondering when they'll be forced to move computers to a newer operating system.

PCMag.com reported that, as of Tuesday, customers now have to pay for Windows incident reports, design changes and warranty support, as well as free bug fixes not directly related to security issues. XP and Office 2003 customers previously got this assistance for free.

How do state and local government officials feel about it?

"To now charge us more for something we already bought and paid for that they can support easily, that most of the users are staying with in a time of economic downturn -- I think it's unconscionable, if not outright extortion," said Hap Cluff, the director of information technology for Norfolk, Va.

Lisa Moorehead, the director of management information systems in the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, said her department doesn't have the budget to pay for repeated incident-report calls.

"That is going to pose huge problems to us and force us to potentially go to an operating system we don't want to go to," said Moorhead, who isn't thrilled with one of her other options: the newer Windows Vista operating system.

"I can tell you, largely with both myself and my colleagues within the state of Massachusetts, we are very concerned with moving toward Microsoft Vista. We are not very happy with the operating system," she said. Windows Vista has been criticized by some users for issues related to privacy, security and performance.

XP Security Updates Still Free

According to Microsoft's Support Lifecycle Policy, mainstream support for business products is provided for five years or for two years after the successor product is released, whichever is longer. XP was released in 2001 and was followed by Vista in January 2007. Microsoft will continue offering free security updates for XP until August 2014.

"During the 'Extended Support' period for Office 2003 and Windows XP, business and consumer customers receive security updates and online support at no additional cost and paid support that is charged on an hourly basis or per incident. Business customers are eligible to receive Hotfix support if an Extended Hotfix Support agreement is purchased within the first 90 days following the end of the Mainstream Support phase," a Microsoft spokesperson said.

"For consumer customers, the price of per-incident support can vary depending on how the consumer purchased the software; however, consumers in the U.S. can generally expect to pay $59 per incident for e-mail, chat and/or phone support. The price for per-incident support for business customers will vary depending on the support issue and the type of support agreement they have with Microsoft," the spokesperson said.

Moorehead isn't looking forward to migrating legions of department PCs that have been running XP to another operating system.

"I do think it's going to pose some problems in productivity, especially in our production environments -- where there are lots of laptops still with Windows XP. There are lots of desktops still with Windows XP," she said. "There have been entire applications developed around using Windows XP because it's been quite robust."

Cluff also feels inconvenienced.

"We're basically stuck with XP because we don't have the money now to upgrade to new, better equipment in order to be able to support and run Vista," Cluff said. He also said he could migrate some PCs to Vista and leave others alone, but the split environment doesn't appeal to him. "You need to do it for everything. Otherwise, you're stuck with operating two operating systems, and that's really a hassle."

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.