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    Microsoft rings down the curtain on Windows 98

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver Microsoft rings down the curtain on Windows 98

    High Tech Office column; Issue #870, June 27- July 3, 2006

    As far as Microsoft’s concerned, for Windows 98 and ME users, it’s finally the end of the road, or in Micro-speak, EOL: End of Lifecycle. The curtains close on July 11, when Microsoft finally ends paid extended support for those two operating systems and will no longer be providing security patches or updates for them.

    Windows 98 was originally released in August 1998. It was widely used by home users and to a lesser extent in business systems. Windows ME was released in mid-2000, but saw much less widespread use. It was targeted primarily at home users. Business users were much more likely to make use of Windows 2000, which was released a few months earlier.

    Microsoft is promising that Windows 2000 extended support is not due to be “retired” until July 13, 2010. For the company’s current mainstream business operating system version, Windows XP Professional, Microsoft notes that “mainstream support will end two years after the next version of this product is released. Extended support will end five years after mainstream support ends.” The next version, Windows Vista, is expected early in 2007.

    It’s not entirely clear how many copies of Windows 98 or ME are still in use. Recent published estimates, based on statistics gathered by website logs vary from 3.8 per cent to seven per cent for Win98 and from two per cent to four per cent for ME. This data, however, misses what could be large numbers of older computers that are not used online.

    And for those older computers, Microsoft’s end-of-lifecycle date might be a non-event. It’s not as if computers that were working satisfactorily on July 10 will suddenly stop working (or suddenly be targeted by hackers) on July 12. But Windows 98 (and to a lesser extent ME) has been increasingly a non-contender over the past few years.

    These versions may look relatively similar to Windows 2000 and XP – they all have a taskbar along the bottom with a start button in the corner and icons for My Computer and the like – but under the hood, Win 98 and ME are the last versions of a line of operating systems that stretches backwards through Windows 95 and 3.1 with roots in 1981’s MS-DOS.

    Windows 2000 and XP are part of a different family tree, evolving from Windows NT, Microsoft’s “New Technology” of the mid-1990s.

    It takes extra work for software developers to build in support for both Windows families. Recent versions of Microsoft products like Office will no longer install onto computers running Windows 98 or ME. While some may see that as part of a grand conspiracy by Microsoft to force users to update to newer Windows versions, third party software ranging from the latest Word Perfect to Apple’s iTunes to Google Earth also demand Windows 2000 or better.

    Ironically though, the hacker community is also starting to ignore Windows 98 and its ilk. Recent security vulnerabilities have also tended to affect Windows 2000 and XP systems.

    If your tried and true older Windows system is getting the job done, Microsoft’s July 11 deadline is no reason to rush out and replace it.

    If it’s being used online, it probably should be protected behind a firewall, but you should be doing that anyway – even if you’re running a newer, more up-to-date system.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan