Windows 98 set for final curtain

Large numbers of computer users in the Middle East face the prospect of being without support for their operating systems, as Microsoft pulls the plug next month on support for its Windows 98 OS.

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By  Peter Branton Published  December 28, 2003

Large numbers of computer users in the Middle East face the prospect of being without support for their operating systems, as Microsoft pulls the plug next month on support for its Windows 98 OS.

As of January 16, users will only be able to get limited online help from Microsoft, even if they wish to pay extra for support. The company said this is in accordance with its product lifecycle policy. As part of a settlement with Sun Microsystems, W98 is also one of a number of products that are being phased out from distribution, including some versions of Office 2000 and SQL Server 7. The dispute centres on the use of the Java Virtual Machine in these products.

While Microsoft says W98 has reached the end of its product lifecycle, its appeal with users is proving to be a bit more longlasting. The Windows Middle East readership survey for 2003 showed nearly 40% of readers were still using the OS. Worldwide, last September 29% of searches made on Google came from machines running W98. The enduring popularity of the OS has led to concerns that all users, not just W98 ones, may become more vulnerable to security threats. If such a large proportion of the online community isn't protected by patches, analysts have said, viruses could be spread more quickly, and W98 users will have no defence.

Microsoft has moved to address these fears. "The posted policy only addresses our general support policy regarding the product," said a spokesman for Microsoft Middle East. "The security of our customers' systems continues to be our top priority and beyond the specified lifespan of the product we will evaluate security incidents and an appropriate response on a case by case basis."

It remains to be seen whether users will be mollified by this response. Sun Microsystems is hoping to win customers by offering to upgrade W98 users from a Microsoft offering to its own desktop package at half the Microsoft's price.

"Most PCs have a lifespan of 3-5 years and come preloaded with a Microsoft OS from the vendor," says Graham Porter, marketing manager for Sun MENA. "Many of them were still shipping W98 in 2000 so why should people change now?"

By contrast with Microsoft, last year HP withdrew consumable support for its first laserjet printer, but that was introduced in 1984 and the company said the product had just 12 customers left worldwide.

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