Less than a year ago, I wrote a column extolling the virtues of Windows 98 (see "Win 98: Always on My Mind" at eweek.com), calling it probably the most successful Windows operating system of all time and proudly proclaiming the fact that one of my home systems was still running the aged but still-spry OS.
But, like many other users, I bid Windows 98 farewell on July 11, the day that Microsoft ended all support for it (as well as for Windows 98s sibling, Windows ME). Ive since upgraded that home system to Windows XP, and it seems to be pretty happy with the OS.
Im guessing that there are many other users and businesses doing the same thing right now—running out and purchasing brand-spanking-new copies of Windows XP, thankful that they wont have that end-of-support sword hanging over their heads anymore. But they shouldnt rest too easy because that same sword could be hovering again much sooner than they think.
Like a lot of people, I tend to refer to Windows 98 as an 8-year-old operating system. But, as a reader posted on the eWeek Labs blog (at blog.eweek.com/blogs/eweek_labs), its not that old for many users—a lot of people didnt run out and purchase Windows 98 or Windows ME the day it was released. In fact, quite a few people and businesses were buying Windows 98 and ME well into 2002, which means that the product is considered obsolete just four years after they bought it.
Think about that—just four years until product obsolescence. Outside of food products (not counting Twinkies), is there any other product that youd expect to be obsolete four years after you purchased it? Heck, when my car was 4 years old, I still thought of it as brand-spanking-new.
Some people will say, "Hey, thats just the nature of software—technology speeds ahead," and all that. But when I look at any one of my desktop or server systems, I see plenty of software that is a lot older than 4 and is working just fine. When you get down to it, Windows 98 and ME arent functionally obsolete; theyre just being forced into obsolescence.
But I guess thats all out of our hands, and were just going to have to run out and get copies of the most current version of Windows—namely, Windows XP. (If you plan to jump straight from Windows 98 to Vista, youll be taking the risk of running an unpatched Windows 98 system for the next several months.)
Then, in four more years (or possibly less), well get to do the whole thing all over again because its pretty much a solid bet that Microsoft will follow its MO and enact the same sort of kill of Windows XP within that time frame.
I can see the columns in three or four years already. "What are people doing still running Windows XP? Its a dinosaur full of bugs and unable to run the latest in DRMed software and movies. Now that Vista Service Pack 6 is out, the OS is rock solid, so there are no more reasons to hold off on upgrading. And, of course, the new Windows Ciego is just around the corner."
To people who bought Windows XP when it was first released, this will probably seem like common sense. But for those buying brand-new copies right now (just $129 for XP Pro on Amazon.com), three to four years of support wont seem like much support at all.
And thats probably just what will happen. Up until very recently, people who purchased Windows XP Home Edition were facing end of support at the end of 2006. (Imagine buying a brand-new copy this December that would be instantly obsolete.) Microsoft has amended its policy for consumer products: End of support now comes two years after the next version of a product is released. And, of course, recent history has shown that the company will probably extend support if enough people complain.
But all of this is shaping up to be a never-ending cycle. Even if Windows XP turns out to be excellent at handling any task three or four years in the future, its a good bet that Microsoft will kill off its support of the OS anyway. (Actually, that would make it even more likely, as XP would be stiff competition for Vista.)
So, goodbye, Windows 98. It was a great run, but theres a new Windows in my life. Given Microsofts track record, though, I think I wont get too attached to this one.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at email@example.com.