Microsoft extends Windows 98, ME support to 2006

The support had been slated to end this Friday

Days before it was to end support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition, Microsoft Corp. has decided to extend the life of the products until June 30, 2006.

The software vendor also said in a statement today that it had extended support for Windows Millennium Edition, which was set to end Dec. 31, until June 30, 2006.

Microsoft was planning to end support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE on Jan. 16. This means that telephone support would no longer be available and Microsoft would stop releasing security updates for the operating system products. Microsoft told users to upgrade to a newer operating system if they still wanted support.

Microsoft said it has now reversed its decision in response to customers' needs and in order to bring Windows 98 SE in line with its updated product life-cycle policy. The company has changed its product life-cycle policy to provide support for seven years instead of the original four, it said.

The revised product life cycle was announced in October and applies to products released after that date as well as to several operating systems that were released earlier, including Windows 2000 and Windows XP, said Matt Pilla, senior product manager at Microsoft. Windows 98 SE now also falls under that updated life-cycle policy.

Customers in Western countries didn't come knocking down Microsoft's door or flood the company's phone lines to ask for support extensions, according to Pilla. The high volume of general support calls in small, emerging markets, including Kazakhstan, Kenya, Slovenia, Tunisia and Ivory Coast, drove the turnaround.

"We feel we have done a good job of communicating product life-cycle details, but in emerging markets, we got feedback indicating that there was less of an understanding of our product life cycle," Pilla said. "Our decision was to either extend support in those markets or do it globally. So we decided to do it globally."

Despite the availability of Windows XP since late 2001, Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE, which came to market in June 1998 and June 1999, respectively, are still widely used. Research firm IDC estimates that over 58 million copies of Windows 98 were installed worldwide at the end of 2003, said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC.

AssetMetrix Inc., an Ottawa-based IT asset analysis tool vendor, late last year collected data on over 370,000 PCs from 670 businesses in the U.S. and Canada. It found that 80% of those companies have at least one PC running either Windows 95 or Windows 98. The older operating systems accounted for about 27% of operating systems found.

"It sounds to me like Microsoft has heard from customers who are still using their Windows 98 software and is responding accordingly," IDC's Kusnetzky said.

Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft Inc., in Kirkland, Wash., said Microsoft's extensions may help some customers but could frustrate others.

"It is important that a life cycle is predictable because customers make decisions based on the life cycle of a product. Microsoft should sit down and think about what the right length of time is and publish it rather than come up with other reasons to extend it every time we come to a deadline," Cherry said.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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