gave its aging operating systems a reprieve today, announcing that it won’t end extended support for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition (SE) and Windows Millennium Edition (ME) as scheduled.
Users of these elderly, but still useful, operating systems will be able to get paid support and critical security “hotfixes” until June 30, 2006.
“Microsoft made this decision to accommodate customers worldwide that are still dependent upon these operating systems and to provide Microsoft more time to communicate its product lifecycle support guidelines in a handful of markets — particularly smaller and emerging markets,” a company spokesperson told internetnews.com.
She said that the move also brings Windows 98 SE into compliance with the company’s lifecycle policy for new products, which provides for some level of support for seven years instead of the original four.
“We made the decision to also lengthen support for Windows 98 and Windows ME customers to the same date in order to provide a consistent date for support conclusion for all of these older products,” the spokeswoman added.
While it would certainly prefer all customers upgrade to Windows 2003, the Redmond, Wash., software vendor recognizes that it has plenty of customers using previous versions, said Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox. (Jupiter Research and internetnews.com share the same corporate parent.)
While there are still enterprises using the older operating systems, a large proportion of affected customers are consumers. According to Jupiter Research, more than half of the households in the U.S. run Windows XP. But its data also suggests that in many of those households, there remains a PC running an older version of Windows, typically Windows 98 or Windows 98 SE.
“In the consumer market, a lot of these PCs with older operating systems don’t go away,” Wilcox said. “They become hand-me-downs.”
Mircosoft’s decision represents a significant commitment of resources, Wilcox said. The company may have to write drivers for new applications, catalog them and add them to its knowledge base. But the most critical will be continued security updates.
“If Microsoft stops providing support, if there are no security patches, then potentially those customers using older operating systems become a problem for everyone on the Internet,” Wilcox said.
Microsoft is doing the right thing by its customers by giving these operating systems another two years of support, Wilcox said — and that’s CEO Steve Ballmer’s influence.
“Steve Ballmer is now moving into his fourth year at the helm of Microsoft, and you’re starting to see his imprint on the company. He’s an old sales guy,” Wilcox said. “For him, it’s all about the customer.”