Microsoft says goodbye to Windows 98 - but some users still can't

July 07, 2006 2:40 PM EDT
Tuesday is D-Day for Windows 98, 98 SE and ME users. After some extensions, Microsoft is finally ending its association with the eight-year-old Windows 98 operating system by dropping all support and updates on July 11th (see the details here).

It's too bad that many users can't do the same.

While the operating system may have debuted eight years ago, it's easy to forget that Windows 98 was still selling to consumers and small businesses as recently as the Fall of 2001, when Windows XP finally shipped. By that measure, my washer and dryer have outlasted Windows 98 in terms of support.

Personally, I was never a fan of Windows 98. I will always remember the operating system for its failure to shut down properly. When I first started at Computerworld in 2000 I tended to work late. In the late evenings, in the dim light of the open newsroom, the displays on dozens of Windows 98 machines glimmered like candles, each displaying the text "Windows 98 is now shutting down." They never did, of course, and it became a running joke.

As for Windows ME, I suspect dropping support is no big deal, as no amount of technical support could alleviate the pain of running this bug-ridden version of Windows.

For many small businesses, though, Windows 98 was - and still is - a workhorse operating system. And for many of those entrepreneurs it  won't be easy to replace because the business has integrated its processes around hardware and software specifically designed for Windows 98. For large corporate users, Windows 98 is long gone. But one in five consumers still use Windows 98, according to Gartner Inc., and based on my observations that's about right for small businesses too.

In one business, for example, moving to Windows XP would mean abandoning an expensive large-format color printer, a high-end, large-format scanner and some legacy software, all of which work just fine with Windows 98. In that case, an upgrade to XP means much more than replacing a PC. It means spending thousands of dollars buying new hardware and software upgrades and throwing away expensive equipment that is in perfect working order, save its inability to work properly with Windows XP.

Fortunately, some third parties will continue to support Windows 98, as will many local resellers. Those small businesses who can't afford a rip and replace need only Google on "Windows 98 support" to find alternatives.