Out with your old Windows operating system and in with the new
by Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Business in Vancouver , Issue #741 January 6-12, 2004 High Tech Office column
The new year is traditionally a time to say goodbye to last year's way of doing things and welcoming in the new. So it's appropriate that Microsoft chose the end of 2003 to announce that it was finally going to stop selling, and, perhaps more importantly, stop supporting a whole list of older software versions, among them Windows 98. As of January 16, Win98 and 98SE enter the non-support portion of their product lifecycle so Microsoft will no longer actively develop security hot-fixes for these operating systems.
Microsoft has said that while it will not routinely develop patches for Win98, it will "evaluate malicious threats to our customers on a case-by-case basis and take appropriate steps."
That decision affects many business and home users. A recent study by Ottawa-based AssetMetrix Research Labslooked at 670 U.S. and Canadian companies, ranging in size from 10 to 49,000 employees, and using a total of over 370,000 PCs. Over 80 per cent were still using Windows 98 or the older Windows 95 on at least some of their systems. Twenty-seven per cent were running Windows 98 or 95, compared with only seven per cent running Microsoft's current system Windows XP. Thirteen per cent of these corporate PCs were running Windows NT. According to the AssetMetrix survey the most widely-used Windows version is Windows 2000, running on about half of the surveyed systems.
The study suggested that there were few differences in this regard between large and small businesses.
Home users are also continuing to use older Windows versions. Google reported that 29 per cent of the searches carried out on its system in September were done from Windows 98 systems, while 20 per cent were from Windows 2000 PCs and 38 per cent were from Windows XP users.
Windows 98 users don't need to panic: just because Microsoft has declared Windows 98 officially obsolete doesn't mean that systems with it installed will suddenly stop running. Windows 95 users have been in a similar situation since December 31, 2001. If they use the Windows Update icon in their Start Menu, they'll get a message that their version is no longer supported. Recent product versions from Microsoft such as Internet Explorer 6.0 and Office XP refuse to install on Windows 95 systems, a not-so-subtle hint that Microsoft wants those users to upgrade.
But what Microsoft refers to as "online self-help support" continues. In other words, Windows 95 patches, drivers and support documents remain available on Microsoft's Web site. The company has announced that self-help support for Windows 98 will similarly be available at least until June 30, 2006.
Not only will older Windows versions continue to work, companies with Win98 installation CDs and volume licensing agreements can continue to legally install that version onto additional computers.
AssetMetrix, however, is hoping that companies still using older unsupported Windows versions will make use of their asset-management product, Win98Exodus, to help develop a strategy to upgrade to Windows 2000 or XP. They also recommend that businesses "retire" unsupported systems that are directly connected to the Internet.
The older hardware that's typically running Windows 95 or 98 often doesn't do well upgraded to WinXP; XP seems to do best on newer computers. Many businesses and home users may want to continue to use these older operating systems, upgrading software and hardware at their pace rather than Microsoft's. If that's the case, I would strongly urge making sure that these systems are current with all the available upgrades, that antivirus software is installed (and continually updated) and that if they're connected to the Internet they're protected by a firewall.