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Microsoft does a good deed

Jan 19, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

* Microsoft extends the life of Windows 98, ME

I can always count on receiving a handful (or more) vituperative e-mails whenever I say something even remotely nice about Microsoft. Nevertheless, I’m going to do it again – I need an inbox full of “sound and fury,” as Shakespeare put it (look up the reference – Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5).

Late last week, an announcement out of Redmond gave a reprieve to Windows 98 users (and Windows ME users, but there never should have been any ME on your network!). Support for Windows 98 had been due to end last Friday, Jan. 16, but in a surprising (to some) move, Microsoft on Monday announced that it had decided to extend the life of the products until June 30, 2006. That’s an almost two and a half year extension!

According to an IDG News Service story that ran on Network World Fusion (see link below), Microsoft made the move “…to bring Windows 98 [Second Edition] in line with its updated product lifecycle policy.”

Last year, Microsoft proclaimed that products would be supported for seven years from their release date. June 2006 would be seven years after the release of Windows 98 Second Edition in June of 1999.

While some grumbled about support for Win98 ending this month, that fact had been known since the operating system was first released. No one could have blamed Microsoft for sticking to its previously announced timetable. So why did it really do it?

Two factoids suggest a reason:

* Research firm IDC estimates that more than 58 million copies of Windows 98 were installed worldwide at the end of 2003.

* Canada’s AssetMetrix collected data on more than 370,000 PCs from 670 businesses in the U.S. and Canada and found that 80% of those companies have at least one PC running Windows 98 or an earlier operating system and the older operating systems accounted for about 27% of operating systems found.

Put those two factoids together and extrapolate and you could conclude that 400,000 organizations world-wide still had at least one PC running Windows 98 or earlier. If they haven’t upgraded them to Windows XP in the three years that XP has been shipping they aren’t likely to do so in the near future. The next desktop version of Windows is due out late next year. A December 2005 release followed by six months of testing in your lab means that by June 2006 you should be ready to roll out that next system just as support for your old operating system is expiring. Not a bad deal at all.

Microsoft could have stuck with its deadline and strong-armed folks into upgrading to Windows XP, but it didn’t. Instead, it took the long view and decided that the benefit of continuing to support Windows 98 could be that users will look more favorably on the company and will plan to upgrade to another Windows operating system in a couple of years. That’s certainly better for Bill Gates & Co., than having customers start looking towards Linux desktops.