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Let's say version 2.4.x of Software Package X was released 2 years ago, and was sold up until about 6 months ago. Version 3.1.0 is now out (which fixes a lot of the issues with version 2.4.x), and is the only version actively being sold.

In this case, the software is being sold to large businesses, not individuals, so the maintenance effort required is substantial.

For how long should the company offer support for version 2.4.x?

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How long ago did you stop offering version 2.1 for sale? – Michael Kjörling Sep 20 '11 at 8:52
We stopped selling it about 6 months ago. – Jordaan Mylonas Sep 21 '11 at 5:43
Same as 2.4.x then? You may want to re-read your question. – Michael Kjörling Sep 21 '11 at 7:52

If your clients are large and institutional, then your answer is however long they're paying you for it. This is a business, not a technical decision. Do the math, comparing the support/maintenance fees with the cost, and keep the support around for as long as it's still making you money.

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+1 for clarifying this as a business decision – StuperUser Sep 21 '11 at 12:37

Depends on the software. Best if you maintain full backwards compatibility and all support involves mandatory upgrade. Unless your business model depends on selling new versions every few years.

It requires a precarious balance: make the support period too short and people will leave in favor of better supported competition. Make it very long and the costs will gobble you up.

The usual approach of "keep the previous version supported until new one is released (plus some)" is okay if the release cycle isn't too fast - like, one new version a year, or longer. So, if you release 4.x, you keep support of 2.x for another couple of months to encourage migration, and keep supporting 3.x until a few months past release of 5.x. But if you release a new version every 6 months, you should keep the support longer.

Still, specifics of the job may require much longer support period. Say, it's industrial embedded - software running machinery worth many millions of dollars. So something breaks, and you just can't say "this is not supported any longer" three years after deploying. OTOH, maintaining free warranty support, while nice, is not mandatory. Additional option against disgruntled customers who don't want, or can't upgrade, is paid support - valued at the cost of keeping it up plus a profit.

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Usually large businesses pay for maintenance contracts.

You then support old versions as long as customer pays. It is up to you to balance maintenance cost vs. new version costs so that customers switch. You can also offer a support for upgrading.

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if you are developing a web app, none : ) anyways, as long as some users still use that version, you have to support the software, that is because of software engineering ethics. If you dont want to support the old release anymore, you have to help them migrate to new release and voila!! problem solved..

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When you sell a software, the support document specifies up to when the company commits to provide support for the system. In case there is no written course for the support in the manual or document supplied with the software, then the provider is not liable to provide support at any time.

It's just out of the good leap that companies provide support even after the said period. In your case, i think you can provide the support for next six month and then kill that. In between try to make clients know of your move and ask to upgrade before withdrawing support after six months.

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