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Gartner: Windows 9.x Support Extension an Attempted Linux Deterrent

Analysts at Gartner contend Microsoft's decision last week to extend support deadlines for several versions of Windows 9.x was motivated by a fear of customer defections to Linux.

"Gartner believes that Microsoft extended Windows 9x support until mid-2006 to discourage Linux adoption in emerging markets," analysts Michael Silver and Annette Jump wrote in a recent opinion.

Microsoft extended support on Jan. 12 for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition and Windows Me through June 30, 2006. Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE had been scheduled to expire last Friday. Windows Me support would have lasted until the end of this year.

Microsoft explained the move as an attempt to accommodate customers worldwide still using the operating systems and to provide Microsoft more time to communicate its product lifecycle support guidelines in smaller and emerging markets.

The essence of Gartner's argument is that the move was motivated by Microsoft's self-interested fears of revenue loss from customer defections rather than benign concern that customers' experience a comfortable progression through Microsoft's successive operating systems.

Silver and Jump make their case by comparing Microsoft's decisions on Windows 98/Me with Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, which did not see its support deadlines extended last week and represents a bigger problem for the enterprise. (A recent Gartner survey, which the firm adds is not big enough to be statistically significant, found that 19 percent of PCs at respondent companies run Windows NT 4.0 Workstation and 6.4 percent will still do so by the end of the year. By comparison, only 5.7 percent of the PCs at those companies run Windows 98 and only 0.3 percent will by year's end.)

According to Gartner estimates, more than a quarter of PCs worldwide still ran Windows 98 at the end of 2003, and the bulk of those customers are consumers, small businesses and businesses in the smaller and emerging markets. "Most of the population still running Windows 98 may be less motivated to make, and less able to afford, a quick move to XP and may be more interested in Linux compared with those still running [Windows NT 4.0.]," Silver and Jump wrote.

Gartner's kicker: "Thus, Microsoft runs more risk for less benefit to push these users to upgrade than for large enterprises running NTW4, where Microsoft has more opportunity for upgrade revenue and where Linux is less of a threat."

About the Author

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

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