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Putting Windows 98 on Ice

On July 11, Microsoft will officially retire support for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition and Windows Me.

Microsoft has been phasing out the three Win9.x-based platforms for years. One major step, taken in 2004, was limiting security updates only to critical issues. Other supported Microsoft operating systems, such as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, get additional patches for security vulnerabilities in Microsoft's low, moderate and important categories.

On June 30, 2003, Microsoft formally ended both no-charge incident support and extended hotfix, or bug-fix, support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition. No-charge incident support and extended hotfix support were shuttered for Windows Me on Dec. 31, 2003. Officially ending for all three systems on July 11 are:

  • Paid incident support
  • Critical security updates on the Windows Update site
  • Consideration of customer requests for non-critical security fixes on the three operating systems and their components through standard assisted-support channels
  • No-charge downloads for existing security issues through regular assisted-support channels

This isn't Microsoft's first attempt to completely cut support for the Windows 98/SE/Me group. Microsoft originally planned to scrap support for the platforms on Jan. 16, 2004. Just before that date, Microsoft reversed course, extending the deadline until the end of this month. Microsoft explained its decision by saying that its ongoing evaluation of its Support Lifecycle policy, which lays out periods of mainstream and extended support for Microsoft products, revealed that customers in smaller and emerging markets needed more time to upgrade. IDC, the Framingham, Mass.-based IT research and analysis company, estimated that, at the end of 2003, nearly 60 million PCs were still running Windows 98.

Windows 98
Time Capsule

Windows 98 was launched on June 25, 1998, at an event in San Francisco. Following is a sampling of what else was happening in the world around the same time:

$1.05 Cost of a gallon of regular gasoline

9,200-9,300 Dow Jones Industrial Average

Osama bin Laden Implicated in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa

Ken Starr Appointed to head investigation of Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky saga that dominates Washington, D.C.

$14.48 billion Microsoft's recorded annual revenues for fiscal 1998

$108.37 Microsoft's share closing on June 30

That original deadline was one of the first major tests of the company's Lifecycle Support policy, and Microsoft flinched by acquiescing to user requests for additional time.

This year, IDC expects Windows 98 usage to fall fast. "The installed base for Windows 98 currently accounts for about 8.7 percent of the overall Windows client OS total," says Al Gillen, IDC's research vice president for system software. "By the end of this year, that number should drop to under 3 percent of the total. The time for Microsoft to drop support, if not now, would surely be in the near future. Windows 98 has been replaced by two consumer releases and two business releases."

Customers -- and the partners supporting them -- will have ways to hang on to Windows 98 if they must. Microsoft has committed to leaving self-help support online until at least June 30, 2007. But Microsoft clearly doesn't want customers to stay on Win9.x indefinitely, and that stance isn't all about upgrade revenues. With the release of Windows XP in 2001, Microsoft achieved a longstanding ambition of bringing its consumer operating systems onto the more secure and stable Windows NT code base. Since the release of Windows 2000, Microsoft has implored businesses to get off Windows 9.x onto its more robust business client operating systems. New security vulnerabilities continue to dog the Win9.x platform, with many of the issues discovered this year raising critical threats to users of Windows 98/SE/Me.

Back on Jan. 16, 2004, it might have seemed to partners that the new support deadline would be a good opportunity to talk customers into Windows Longhorn (now Vista) upgrades. At the time, few probably imagined that Windows Vista still wouldn't be available by June 2006, let alone until early in 2007. (Analysts at Gartner even recently predicted that the new OS won't make it out the door until the second quarter of 2007.) Users now have the option of hanging on with an unsupported platform or investing the time and effort to upgrade to a Windows XP operating system that's already five years old.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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