July 11, 2006 9:32 AM PDT

Microsoft puts end to Windows 98 support

From Tuesday, Microsoft will no longer issue security updates or provide support for Windows 98 and Windows ME, which are still being used by more than 50 million people.

Eight years after launching Windows 98, Microsoft is finally washing its hands of updating and plugging security gaps in the aging operating system.

The software giant originally planned to pull the plug in January 2004, but decided to extend support because of the increasing competition from Linux.

This time round, Microsoft is hoping that the remaining users of Windows 98 and Windows Millennium Edition will upgrade to Windows XP, according to Peter Watson, chief security advisor, Microsoft Australia.

If Microsoft sees a Win9x attack in the wild in the next few months, we would not be surprised if they issued a fix.
--Michael Silver, research vp of client platforms, Gartner

"Microsoft works closely with leading retailers to undertake promotions such as upgrade discounts to encourage users to upgrade to Windows XP," Watson told ZDNet Australia.

Analyst firms estimate that there are still between 50 million and 70 million computers running Windows 95, 98 or ME.

Hardest hit by the cancellation of support will be home users and schools, according to Michael Silver, research vice president of client platforms at research group Gartner, who agrees that support has been extended to fight off the threat from Linux.

"Consumers and schools will be most affected by this announcement because they will no longer get security fixes," Silver told ZDNet Australia. "I suspect that Microsoft's original extension of the Windows 98 support date a couple of years ago was, in part, to make sure Linux was not brought in to replace these systems."

Silver believes that as far as the overall security landscape goes, the prospect of millions of unsupported PCs is a "cause for concern." In addition, he said Microsoft may be pressured into creating a fix if there is a serious virus outbreak.

"Microsoft has not fixed every hole in Win9x, but I'm not sure they've been attacked, either. If Microsoft sees a Win9x attack in the wild in the next few months, we would not be surprised if they issued a fix--wide-scale outages are not good for their customers or for Microsoft--but since there is no automatic update, users may not be able to get the fix in time," said Silver.

Silver believes that some users may decide to switch to Linux instead of upgrading to XP, but he said existing applications that require Windows are likely to stop a mass-migration.

"School PCs are likely more at risk. Win9x PCs used regularly on the Internet need up to date security software. Some of these users--companies, schools and governments--may switch to Linux or Mac, but application issues often makes that an expensive option," Silver said.

Dropping support justified
Microsoft's Watson said consumers have the choice to use any version of Windows and dismissed any suggestion that Microsoft has a responsibility to secure older versions of its software.

"This issue is not unique to the IT industry. For example, there are many people on the road who choose to drive the latest cars with the latest safety features, such as ABS brakes and air bags. But at the same time, there are many others who are happy driving their cars which may not have these features," he said.

"It is not the responsibility of automotive manufacturers to have their customers acquire the latest technology. This is the same issue for makers of mobile phones, washing machines, dishwashers, TVs, fridges, radios and so on," Watson said.

However, Watson said Microsoft would try to "encourage" users of Win9x systems to upgrade to XP.

"Microsoft encourages users to upgrade to Windows XP and provides information which helps educate users on the benefits of upgrading, but it is ultimately the customer's choice," he added.

Gartner's Silver said that although there are still millions of Windows 9x users, compared with alternative operating system vendors, Microsoft's support schedules are still "better than most."

"Most software vendors and hardware vendors are no longer developing Win9x drivers for their new products--and have not been for some time now. Further, most free Linux distributions are supported for a year, some for two. Microsoft has supported Win98 for eight years, 98SE for seven years, and Windows ME for six years," he said.

"These do not meet Microsoft's current enterprise standard of 10 years--they shipped before the 10-year policy--but they're better than most," Silver added.

Munir Kotadia of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.

See more CNET content tagged:
Michael Silver, Microsoft Windows 98, Gartner Inc., Linux, Microsoft Windows ME

24 comments

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Several "critical" flaws remain unpatched in '98.
The pull-quote has me baffled:

"If Microsoft sees a Win9x attack in the wild in the next few months, we would not be surprised if they issued a fix." --Michael Silver, research vp of client platforms, Gartner

Is this guy joking? Several major security flaws are outstanding in Windows 98 and Microsoft has not bothered to patch them (despite only -now- not "supporting" '98) because it would take "too much effort". Michael obviousally has never heard of this.
Posted by mbevan (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So what?
Windows 98 is a dinosaur. Sure, some people keep it around because they have legacy apps that require it but they should NOT be connected to a corporate network let alone the Internet.

If you are still running that OS and connect your computer to the Internet, you deserve every attack you get hammered by.
Posted by thenet411 (415 comments )
Link Flag
Way ahead of em'...
"Silver believes that some users may decide to switch to Linux instead of upgrading to XP".

That's exactly what I did. I had an older laptop with Win98SE on it and I just converted it to Ubuntu Linux. It was easy to install and it's very user friendly. It takes a little time to get to get to know Linux, but I can deal with that, especially for the price (FREE!).

I'd rather go Linux or OS X than XP. I don't care what flavor of Windows it is, there's way too many flaws in it. I have another laptop with XP and it gives me nothing but grief, no matter how many times I update it with fixes and patches. I'm looking forward to the day when I can get a Mac to replace it, then I'll be completely Windows free! Free at last!
Posted by anomalator (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Way Ahead Of 'Em
Yea, Linux is getting better and better and is a viable alternative. But I still prefer OS/X.

Either one now beats Windows 98, which I have to admit, I certainly liked back when it came out...

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @ pleasedontspam.com
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
People use Windows Me?!?!!?
Get out!
Posted by (156 comments )
Reply Link Flag
exactly how long...
...did that OS last anyway?

I completely forgot about Windows 98. Thought that OS died years ago.
Posted by mbjr (64 comments )
Link Flag
Sure they do.....
It came pre-installed on zillions of computers for a short while.
Posted by angrykeyboarder (136 comments )
Link Flag
One thing said wrong:
"Silver believes that some users may decide to switch to Linux instead of upgrading to XP, but he said existing applications that require Windows are likely to stop a mass-migration."

-err, if it'll run on Windows 98, odds are very good that WINE, Crossover Office, or Transgaming's plugins for Linux will run the thing.

Or, if all else fails, Win4Lin on Linux (www.win4lin.com) running an instance of Win98 in it will certainly operate the program, but at the same time keep the machine a lot more secure than a windows-only install would.

If someone is still running Win98 nowadays, it's because 1) their current package OEM computer fulfills their needs, runs just fine, and doesn't require a new computer purchase (makes perfect sense IMHO), or 2) there's something about the newer versions of Windows that they simply do not like (bloat, too resource-intensive, etc)

Microsoft isn't going to be able to do much to capture either crowd...

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Good Riddence
Windows 98 on my machine was terminated in 2001 after I upgraded then to Windows 2000. Win98 came with my old Dell PIII 850 with 128MB of Ram. When I noticed too many BSOD and problems with stability I gave it up and never looked back.

Win98 had its day but now it's over. Move on. If your business still runs on 98, move on.
Posted by facerw (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
XP on Celeron 400 and 433= GO TO XP !
Because I did not need the PCs that I got as surplus I actually reformatted and installed XP Pro SP2 on a DELL Optiplex G1 Celeron 400 with 320 MB SDRAM and an HP Brio BA-200 Celeron 433 with 160 MB SDRAM. Both have original 5400 (DELL) and 7200 (HP) rpm hard drives... I added the SDRAM scavenged from even older PCs..
Both are online wirelessly for web surfing with free Avast Home 4.7 and AdAware 1.06.
The HP has Front Page and I update webs with it wirelessly using 768bps DSL hooked to a 802.11g wireless router.
DELL support site says XP will not run on that Optiplex, maybe HP says the same: I have not cared to waste an hour to look.

Conclusion: buy more memory, save your files, get your program install CDs, get Windows XP, reformat and install it. Maybe buy some more memory. No need for 512 MB to a 1GB of RAM; these old PCs won't support much anyway.
Posted by eeemang (217 comments )
Reply Link Flag
better yet ...
Stay away from XP, far far away. Micro$loth is thrashing about in
the tar pits, ready to become extinct. Run away and find
something that actually works.

Linux.

Then you can actually *enjoy* your computer, instead of working
for it. Besides, XP will become a dinosaur soon as well and you'll
be forced into the lumbering cow (Longhorn - sorry, it's now
Vista). Yes, they will be able to force you, since they slip their
killswitch onto your machine as a critical update (they call it
WGA, or Windows Genuine Advantage; although they should
have called it WGD, or Winblows Genuine Disadvantage) ...
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
Would that be licensed XP?
If that's licensed XP (pirated software is illegal and more difficult to use because of WGA), do you realize that it would cost more than a Celeron 433 Mhz is worth? Are you talking about the discounted OEM? That doesn't sound practical because it expires when that old computer expires. Or do you mean the 3x the price standard retail box? You'll be able to migrate that to newer boxes later on, but heck, that costs much more than that old box is worth.

Institutions like schools and many business already have these licenses for 98SE and they run the software they need (an Office suite, openoffice.org perhaps?) and a browser.

Finding the money for legal upgrades to XP is going to be the problem, so you can expect that a big chunk of these users will stay with the OS that they have licenses for.

In the meantime, even if Microsoft drops support for these older OS, there will be white hats who will make the patches. And for many of the 98 installations, not having the latest patches is not an issue if the machines are not internet connected (e.g. a school typing lab, or clerical staff at the office).
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
I'm still gonna use Win9X
I work in a small business that has mostly Windows 98SE and ME machines. People keep saying to upgrade to XP, but XP doesn't run very well if the PC has 64MB of RAM and a Pentium 2 processor. Also, some of you keep forgetting that a lot of people can not afford to do both a hardware and or a software upgrade. As a computer tech, I've loaded every possible defense on all of the company's computers (Spybot, AVG, all Windows Updates, Norton Internet Security Firewall, etc) because a lot if internet research is done. Since I've been working here, I have seen no successful attacks of any kind. For the Win9X users out there, if u can't do the upgrade, make sure u protect your system.
Posted by turtlew1019 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
An idea for Microsoft
They should put the 2000 Professional Upgrade on the market and make it cheaper than XP Home. That way, people with old machines can upgrade to something a bit more secure and affordable and Microsoft will get what they are after....the money. Its better than leaving millions of people with PC's open to attack and it'll bring in a lil extra pocket money to Microsoft. Everybody's happy.
Posted by turtlew1019 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It had to happen sometime.
To those who think this stinks, I have to ask, just how long should a company offer support for it's products? 8 years is quite a long time. It's well past the warranty period for anything of any kind that you can purchase (computers, televisions, automobiles, microwave ovens and on and on).

Windows 98 is horrendously out of date. If you can't afford to upgrade, then I'd suggest staying with it and taking the risk.

Besides, most security holes in operating systems aer overblown anyway. You'd have to go to a lot of trouble to have most of them affect you, the ordinary user.

The other option is switching to Linux. Many Linux distributions will run quite well on a PC designed for Windows 98/ME.

Linux does have a learning curve and it's not quite as simple to use as Windows, but there is all kinds of free online support via web forums and mailing lists. I use both Windows XP and Linux myself.

But just like Windows, Linux distributions are only supported for so long. In fact, most are supported for 2 years or less.

But in that case you easily upgrade to a new distribution (at no cost) with any number of free (as in no cost) distributions.

Popular no-cost distributions include (but are not limited to) Fedora Core, OpenSUSE, SUSE*, Mandriva, Debian and Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Xubuntu**.

I'd recommend using the XFCE desktop (GUI) with any of these distributions if you have an older computer. It runs much faster than the more popular KDE and GNOME desktops. You can install XFCE on any of these quite easily (just check any of the forums or mailing lists for any of the above distributions for details.

If any of this is greek to you, use your favorite Internet Search engine and you'll find lots of help on the web.

If Linux is too intimidating for you, than your best bet it to bite the bullet and get a new computer. The cheapest most inexpensive computers nowadays will be *vastly* superior to any computer that came with Windows 98/ME installed and can be had for as little as $350.00 (I'd recommend spending at at least $500.00).

I just found a (CNET rated "Very Good") PC for just under $500.00 that has a 2.2 GHz CPU, 1 GB of PC3200 SDRAM, on-board ATI Radeon Xpress Video,a 7200 RPM 200 GB Hard Drive and a Dual Layer DVD±R/RW drive.

That computer (which is quite a bargain) makes any PC designed for Windows 98 look like a Dinosaur (and them some).




FOOTNOTES:

*These distributions offer both no-cost and commercial (you have to buy it just like you have to pay for Windows) versions. The no-cost versions are usually released a bit later than the commercial versions (but do include security updates) and are downlodable just like the non-commercial distributions.

**Xubuntu is based on and supported by Ubuntu. It's default desktop is thee faster XFCE (as mentioned above) which makes starting off with XFCE quite easy. Kubuntu features the KDE desktop and Ubuntu itself features GNOME. As previously mentioned, KDE and GNOME run slower than XFCE and it's particularly noticeable on older computers.
Posted by angrykeyboarder (136 comments )
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