The end of useful life for Microsoft Corp.s DOS-based versions of Windows is dictated by factors visible and invisible to users—but, in both cases, of crucial importance to enterprise application developers.
The DOS-based Windows 9x architecture underlying Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows ME is clearly incapable of meeting the data- and task-intensive demands of the modern corporate user. Multiple browser windows, for example, can quickly consume the dangerously limited capacity of crucial Windows 9x data structures, which have fixed maximum sizes independent of the amount of memory in the system.
If a particular application or a particular set of tasks routinely exhausts user (I/O management) or Graphical Device Interface resource capacity and crashes the machine, adding memory will not help. Users who are trying to work with rich media for corporate communications or to maintain growing constellations of real-time data monitoring processes for supply chain management and other tasks cannot continue to tolerate this lack of scalability. In most cases, theyve already moved on to a Windows NT-based platform without these legacy constraints.
Less visible to users are the security issues that arise from the Windows 9x design. As eWEEK (then PC Week) Labs observed in March 1999: "Windows begins with the model of a single user on a single, personally controlled machine and never recovers from the resulting assumption that no piece of code would be on a machine if the user didnt want it to be there."
In particular, any process on a Windows 9x machine can have its way with any file available to the user. A higher level of file system security actually entered the picture long before the arrival of Windows 9x, with the introduction of the NT File System in July 1993. But Windows 9x systems did not—and still do not—support this file system, nor do they otherwise provide its ability to assign specific privileges to different users and groups of users.
In combination with technologies such as ActiveX controls, which run with all the owner/user rights of any other code on a machine, the naively trusting nature of the FAT32 file system on Windows 9x has offered an open-air buffet to data thieves—and opened a shooting gallery for malicious attackers.
For these reasons, desktop systems at many enterprise sites have already moved beyond being directly affected by Microsoft pulling the plug on Windows 9x technology. eWEEK Labs discussed Microsofts support plans with members of eWEEKs Corporate Partner Advisory Board immediately following the companys December announcements of the end of life for Windows 9x on Jan. 16 and for Windows ME on Dec. 31, 2004. Microsoft announced this week that it had decided to extend support for Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition and Windows Millennium Edition (ME) until June 30, 2006, in order to "accomodate customers worldwide who are still dependent upon these operating systems."