Windows 98 Is (Still) Dead

Like a train wreck happening in slow motion, the end of life of Microsoft Windows 98-with the termination in July of all support-has been so long in coming that people may have failed to take it seriously.

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Like a train wreck happening in slow motion, the end of life of Microsoft Windows 98—with the termination in July of all support—has been so long in coming that people may have failed to take it seriously. For more than a few Windows users, though, this represents a serious disruption, no matter how obsolete the core design of that operating system might be.

When Microsoft first broached the notion of euthanizing its last DOS-based platform, in late 2003, I urged the community to let the poor thing die (see "Good riddance, Win 98" at I quickly received reader feedback, though, that Windows 98 was effectively an embedded component of any number of systems and devices—including some that had no likely prospect of being updated with Windows 2000-family drivers.

As eWeek Labs Director Jim Rapoza has observed, Windows 98 is arguably "the most successful version of Windows ever" (see "Win 98: Always on my mind" at Indeed, the operating system held sway in my own family room for seven years, delivering entirely adequate performance for most tasks on a PC with 128MB of RAM and a 400MHz proc-essor. But the OS was all too easily brought to its knees by resource-pool exhaustion when I was doing intensive research with many concurrently open Web pages, and I was therefore more than willing to see it go.

Being ready to move on my--self is not the same thing, though, as wanting malware-ridden machines in other peoples family rooms to be out there polluting the Net. When Microsoft continued to support the product, but played word games with its own definitions of security threat levels to excuse lack of action on serious vulnerabilities, I didnt think much of that strategy.

The statute of limitations for mandatory automobile safety recalls is eight years, and 8-year-old software is not worn out to nearly the same degree as an 8-year-old car. Plenty of people were still using and relying on Windows 98 during the time Microsoft was only half-supporting it, whether because it was bought and paid for and adequate or because it was technically tied in to solutions that theyd built to address a wide range of problems. Many people probably hoped it would stay supported indefinitely.

Now, though, its time. You may already have acted on eWeek Labs recommendations for a Windows 98 retirement strategy since the time that we published that list in January 2004 (see "Windows 98: What now?" at If not, Im afraid that several of its action items are no longer available to you. The train wreck took a long time, but the end of the track is here—and I hope that your very last Win 98 crash isnt too devastating.

On the plus side, there are many newly credible OS replacements for the basic Net-browsing, office-application-running, specialized--device-supporting PCs that were previously Windows 98s solid niche. Desktop Linux options or affordable, multi-OS-capable Macintosh hardware have never been more plausible alternatives to a path-of-least-resistance Wintel upgrade.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at