US Report: New Windows 98 warnings

PC makers, who have been scrambling to post updated drivers and BIOSes for Windows 98 during the past month, are battening down the hatches for a new wave of problems they say could result from a Windows 98 feature.

This technology, called Windows 98 Update, is an automatic download facility for Microsoft and third-party-developed drivers, patches, fixes and add-ons. The Windows Update Web site, is accessible to Windows 98 users via a networking link that's embedded in the operating system. Microsoft has said it plans to use Windows Update to deliver Service Pack updates to Windows 98 as they become available. Microsoft is working on a similar online update facility for NT 5.0.

"Microsoft is under intense pressure not to put anything on the Windows 98 Web site," said an executive with one major OEM, who requested anonymity. "Different OEMs want different versions of drivers to load on their systems. Windows Update has the potential to totally hose users' machines because it doesn't capture enough information about a user's configuration to make sure it works properly."

Said another OEM official: "What happens when a driver gets downloaded that ends up breaking other stuff on a user's machine? Who will fix it? We won't. And Microsoft says it won't." The OEM official said his company has been warning Microsoft repeatedly against relying on this feature.

Dell, for its part, has posted to its Dimension technical support Web site a caution against Windows Update. It reads: "Dell recommends that you do not use the Windows 98 Update Wizard to update your system because drivers, updates, and system tools available from the Update Wizard may not be tested by Dell or be compatible with your system. Your system may become unusable if you update it using the Update Wizard...Should you want to update your system, Dell recommends that you download updates from Dell's World Wide Web site at www.dell.com/98upgrade."

Microsoft officials did not return calls requesting comments on Windows Update.

The new warnings supplement cautions that a number of hardware makers have posted to their technical support Web sites during the past month regarding Windows 98. While those warnings originally went so far as to advise customers against attempting to upgrade certain notebooks, laptops and desktops to Windows 98, some OEMs have backed off and softened the wording under pressure from Microsoft, they said.

OEMs aren't the only ones complaining about Windows 98, however. On Wednesday, Dag Hinrichs filed a class action breach-of-contract and breach-of-warranty suit against Microsoft over the failure of the product to perform as advertised. Hinrichs is seeking damages on behalf of himself and Windows 98 customers, according to published reports about the lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The class action suit and latest OEM complaints come on the heels of a Microsoft announcement Thursday that it has sold more than 1 million upgrade licenses of Windows 98 in North America since June 25. These numbers do not include sales of the product preloaded on new hardware.

Coinciding with its record fiscal 1998 earnings announcement yesterday, Microsoft also released data collected by a third-party market research firm, Telecommunications Research Group, that says nine out of 10 Windows 98 home users are satisfied with the product. Microsoft made no claims about business users' product satisfaction.

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