Exchange administrators have long been accustomed to the idea of hotfixes-–small application updates that typically address a few specific problems. Some of these fixes surface in the Microsoft Knowledge Base. Knowledge of others filters out to administrators after someone files a support incident and Microsoft Product Support Services (PSS) provides a patch that solves the problem.
End users are less familiar with the hotfix system. Instead, users typically rely on the Microsoft Office Web site to announce available patches, analyze their computer systems, and suggest appropriate updates. Therefore, some users were surprised last week when Microsoft released a hotfix for Office XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). The hotfix corrects a substantial problem that can cause Outlook 2002 to crash when running on Windows XP and downloading from POP accounts. Microsoft article "OL2002: Outlook Stops Responding When You Download a Message After You Apply Office XP Service Pack 2" describes the patch, but users must contact PSS to get it. You shouldn't be charged for the incident as long as you don't raise any other issues during the support call.
Hotfixes don't undergo the same degree of testing as public updates, so a patch can fix one thing and break another. Because users must contact Microsoft directly for a hotfix, Microsoft can stay in touch, gather feedback, and know immediately whether the patch causes problems.
Still, I'm concerned that Microsoft might have backed away from the initial effort it made to provide regular public updates for the Office XP programs between service packs. Before SP1 in December 2001, Microsoft updated Outlook 2002 in June, August, and October 2001; then it provided no further public updates until SP2 in August 2002. (To be fair, Outlook users did benefit from the April 2002 Microsoft Word update that fixed the merge-to-email feature.) The POP download problem in SP2 is sufficiently widespread and disruptive enough that it deserves a public update, bundled with other available fixes, as soon as Microsoft has a chance to do more testing.
One footnote to the licensing issues I wrote about last month: Microsoft has announced that in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), it will offer participants in the Open license program the opportunity to spread payments over the 3-year life of the license agreement, rather than requiring full payment up front. This Multi-Year Open (MYO) license includes enrollment in the Software Assurance (SA) program, which covers upgrades to new versions over the life of the agreement. Available products include the Windows Professional Upgrade (from earlier OEM or retail copies of Windows), Office Professional, and the Core Client Access License (CAL) for Windows, Exchange, Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS), and Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server. Customers who license Windows, Office, and Core CAL get a 15 percent discount.
This new license might sound like a subscription plan, but it isn't. Microsoft's EMEA subsidiary already offers an Open Subscription license, under which companies have full use of the software during the 3-year subscription, but at the end of 3 years, must either cease using the software or buy a new license or subscription. Companies with the new MYO license will have the right to continue using the software even if they choose not to renew the license at the end of the term. A Microsoft spokesperson said the company is looking at a similar offering worldwide but hasn't yet finalized the details.