Lifeline thrown to Windows 98, ME

Redmond has thrown Windows 98, 98 Second Edition (SE) and Millennium Edition (ME) users a lifeline, announcing that it intends to extend support for the OSs until 2006.

This comes after Microsoft was scheduled to drop all support for the systems from this January, which would entail putting a stop to technical support and issuing security patches.

However, customer pressure, and a change in Microsoft's product life cycle policy, will see Windows 98, SE and ME realigned to fit in with the strategy, and be afforded the additional two years of support.

According to Heather Third, business group manager at Microsoft SA, while Microsoft says that it has done its best to communicate product lifecycles to its client base, and has tried to accommodate clients as best it can, there is a handful of markets that still need a bit more time to convert.

"Based on current support volumes and customer feedback in emerging markets, we felt that extending the support for these products was the right approach," she says.

According to a report on IDG, Dan Kusnetzky, vice-president of systems software research at IDC, says: "Despite the availability of Windows XP since late 2001, Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE, which came to market in June 1998 and June 1999, respectively, are still widely used."

IDC estimates that over 58 million copies of Windows 98 were installed worldwide at the end of last year. Microsoft SA could not comment on numbers relating to this country, however, Third says that in SA, PC shipments have increased by around 10% over the last year, which has seen a significant uptake of Windows XP.

"Sales of Windows 98, SE and ME have largely fallen off in most countries," Third comments.

Taking these numbers into account, and considering the drop in support, this could have raised some serious security issues.

Colin Erasmus, Microsoft SA's security lead, says that Microsoft's extended support policy for Windows 98, SE and ME will still include paid incident phone support and critical security updates until June 30, 2006.

"Microsoft will also be extending support for the current shipping versions of components on those operating systems," Erasmus says. "For example, support will still be available for Internet Explorer 6 (Service Pack 1) and Windows Media Player 9."

The latest announcement by Microsoft gives businesses that are still running Windows 98, SE and ME some leeway to upgrade to Windows XP by 2006. However, due to the global economic recession, and the downturn in ICT spending over the last few years, PC replacement lifecycles have extended to the point where businesses will run machines into the ground before replacing them.

This is one of the main reasons that businesses have not yet upgraded to Windows XP. Older PCs and software applications also have inherent compatibility issues with Windows XP. While most of these issues have been sorted out, the skills, resources and budgets in user organizations are not what they used to be, resulting in slower upgrade cycles.

Microsoft encourages businesses to move to Windows XP, especially given the two-year extension for support on Windows 98, SE and ME. While the system has been the victim of malicious attacks in the past, it is (much) more secure than previous versions of Windows.

The extension will also give Microsoft additional time to communicate the advantages of upgrading to XP and its lifecycle guidelines in markets still saturated with Windows 98, SE and ME installations.

Erasmus says that details of the extension have been made available online at http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle

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