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Microsoft's confusing end-of-life support for Surface RT

You might not be thinking about it right now, but if you're a recent owner (or to-be purchaser) of one of Microsoft's new Surface tablets with Windows RT baked in, there will come a day when Microsoft will no longer officially support your device.

If you're a previous iPad owner, you know this day can come sooner than one might expect. For example, Apple's first iPad - released in 2010 - doesn't qualify for iOS 6 and will surely be left out of any future iOS updates to come, two years or so after the tablet first hit store shelves.

As for Microsoft's Surface RT tablet, the company plans to extend a (relatively generous) support cycle of no less than four years for the consumer device.

But here's where it gets tricky.

The Surface tablet integrates Microsoft hardware and software within a single device, and these two worlds play differently when it comes to the support that Microsoft offers for each. As a result, the Mainstream Support End Date for the tablet will officially be on 11 April 2017 - just over four years after the official launch of the tablet, but a bit less than the conventional five-year support cycle Microsoft typically gives new iterations of the Windows OS.

However, when we say "tablet," we mean just that - hardware. Since the Surface RT is a hybrid hardware-software device in Microsoft's eyes, the company's end-of-life for its Surface RT hardware - ending in April of 2017 - is a little different from the support Microsoft will provide for the software installed on the tablet itself. In theory, Windows RT support will extend for a full five years past the launch date of the OS, but Microsoft hasn't made mention of the official cut-off dates as of yet.

"Microsoft will make software updates, including security updates, available for Windows RT. Additional information regarding the Windows RT lifecycle policy will be communicated as available," reads a description on Microsoft's Windows RT Product Support Lifecycle Policy FAQ.

Additionally, reports ZDNet's Ed Bott, it's possible that Microsoft will end up extending support on Windows RT (and the included Office Home and Student 2013 software found on the Surface RT tablet) past the five-year cutoff, given the company's previous precedent for doing so.