Why Microsoft should sell Windows XP Starter Edition everywhere

Why Microsoft should sell Windows XP Starter Edition everywhere

Summary: If you're still using Windows 98 or Windows Me on a computer that's connected to the Internet, you're either crazy or suicidal. Microsoft says it can't patch a critical vulnerability that affects these older Windows versions. But not everyone can afford the cost of a full XP upgrade. So why not offer Windows XP Starter Edition as an option for people in North America and Western Europe?

TOPICS: Windows

If you’re still using Windows 98 or Windows Me on a computer that’s connected to the Internet, you’re either crazy or suicidal. Maybe both.

The Windows flaw described in Microsoft Security Bulletin MS06-015 is the worst type of all. If you visit a website that exploits this vulnerability, it’s game over. As Microsoft’s bulletin explains, “An attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could take complete control of an affected system.”

A patch released at the end of April fixed this issue for anyone running Windows XP, Windows 2003, or Windows 2000. But if you’re running Windows 98 or Windows Me, you’ve got a problem:

Microsoft has found that it is not feasible to make the extensive changes necessary to Windows Explorer on Microsoft Windows 98, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition (SE), and Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition (ME) to eliminate the vulnerability. To do so would require reengineer a significant amount of a critical core component of the operating system. After such a reengineering effort, there would be no assurance that applications designed to run on these platforms would continue to operate on the updated system.


Microsoft has extensively investigated an engineering solution for Microsoft Windows 98, Microsoft Windows 98 Second Edition (SE), and Microsoft Windows Millennium Edition (ME). We have found that these architectures will not support a fix for this issue now or in the future.

Now, these older Windows versions are at the end of their life cycle anyway, and the explanation in this security bulletin isn’t just an excuse: The amount of effort required to patch this vulnerability for older versions of Windows Explorer would be overwhelming, and it would break lots of apps (look at the list of troubles that occurred with supported Windows versions when the patch was first released, and then imagine an order of magnitude more grief). [Update 14-Jun 7:00AM: Even the Open Source community agrees that maintaining older versions of Windows is a burden. That's why the next release of Firefox won't support Windows 98.]

So, Microsoft says, “Sorry, you’re out of luck. Time to upgrade.” But for many people, especially those on fixed incomes, the cost of upgrading is nontrivial. And so we have a standoff, with the most vulnerable computer users stuck with an insecure operating system, and Microsoft looking like Snidely Whiplash.

I think I have a solution, one that I’ve been pushing for a while now: Microsoft should release a version of Windows XP Starter Edition in North America and Europe and target it specifically at people who are unwilling or unable to upgrade to a more expensive version.

When I first offered this suggestion last year, I suggested that Microsoft sell the package for $29.99 and throw in a free six-month subscription to its new OneCare Live service. Now that Windows 98 and Windows Me are officially unsupported and certifiably dangerous, it’s time for Microsoft to consider this suggestion even more seriously.

As I wrote last year, I don’t believe that selling Starter Edition would cannibalize sales of existing Windows versions:

The operating system has some serious limitations that would rule out its use by any computer enthusiast:

  • Only three programs run at a time. (Hey… You can’t reliably run more than a handful of programs on Windows 9X anyway.)
  • The display runs only at 800 X 600 resolution. Most people who are stuck with old hardware and an old version of Windows are probably running at this resolution anyway.
  • No home networking or multiple user accounts.
  • Settings are preconfigured for novices.

But think of the serious advantages. Upgraders would have all the security fixes of Service Pack 2. They’d be able to run IE7 when it’s available later this year. They could run Windows AntiSpyware [now Windows Defender]. They’d have an easier time with digital cameras and portable music players.

I think this solution would go a long way toward fixing the real problem of people running older, insecure operating systems. It would also give Microsoft an answer to the accusation that they’ve abandoned a core group of customers.

Hey, Scoble’s still in Redmond for another few weeks. Maybe he can talk Steve Ballmer into doing something bold like this.

Topic: Windows

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  • Why not give 'em the Home edition?

    I mean there are people who are running more then three apps on WIndows98.

    If they're going to release Vista anyway, then why don't they just release a cheap home edition now.

    The starter edition just sounds a bit rubbish, and from a user perspective, being restricted to 3 apps might look like a step back ...

    How much more memory does it need?
    • Fire Sale, anyone?

      [b]If they're going to release Vista anyway, then why don't they just release a cheap home edition now.[/b]

      Of course they will - in due course. When Vista arrives, XP will be finally relegated to being yesterday's news and it's perceived value will drop.

      [b]How much more memory does it need?[/b]

      It probably will be able to get by on 256 MB.
      • therefore it's a bad idea

        most of these computers will have 64Mb RAM. i know, because until last year, i had one of those computers (though i upgraded it with an additional 128Mb). most people won't be able to run XP full stop. i'd personally recommend DamnSmallLinux, but that's not "easy-to-use".
        Scott W
  • Come off it

    TELL ME that M$ can't re-compile IE7 for Win9x. What happened to all of those great development tools they made billions on?
    Roger Ramjet
    • The problem is Windows Explorer

      The problem is Windows Explorer, not Internet Explorer.

      Recompiling the web browser won't solve the problem. It's the architecture of the file browser that's the issue.
      Ed Bott
      • re: The problem is Windows Explorer

        <It's the architecture of the file browser that's the issue>.

        I re-read the MS06-015 bulletin and the FAQ related to this security update. Could you follow up and let us know some more details regarding the Win 9.x Explorer issue(s)?

        I agree with Roger; exactly WHY can't they fix/recompile the 9.x Explorer code? If there's a will, there's a way, right? Perhaps the open-source community will soon rescue Win9.x from the grave.

        If that doesn't happen, I wouldn't mind trying your plan, Ed.
        • It breaks compatibility with apps

          You can rewrite Explorer, but when you do that, you break compatibility with potentially thousands of apps and drivers, most of which can't be patched. It's not a lack of will, it's a question of the cure being worse than the disease. How welcome would a patch be if after installing it many or most of your apps no longer worked?
          Ed Bott
          • Apps working

            "How welcome would a patch be if after installing it many or most of your apps no longer worked?"

            Well, there are already plenty of apps that run on 98 that won't run on the NT kernel. Migrating to XP Starter won't help those people who rely on them.
        • open source is no good

          now stop bashing MS guys. Let us think from a software engineer perspective. Its impossible to carry on supporting legacy systems. It happens everywhere. Next version firefox wont support it and i use some tools like performance counter etc and they are also not backward compatible. When linux introduces some big changes, like they have an option in 2.6 and up to clear you VM. But this is not possible for the older kernels which would require considerable code modification. So all good things come to an end. 98 is history vista is reality :)
          • Actually...

            It's not impossible to continue supporting legacy systems. I would give as just one of many examples the AS/400 series.

            In case you didn't know, not everyone needs or wants to upgrade (their software, system, car, boat, house, wife etc).
          • should change your nick to "hopefullyreading"

            because not one person bashed MS in the thread you commented on.

            As for your comment on "98 is history vista is reality", you might want to smarten. I highly doubt these machines running win98 will run vista in any shape or form. The article is about people who can't afford to upgrade(might want to notice that doesn't just mean OS, but hardware as well). Maybe you should try and comprehend the article before chiming in, you wouldn't look so foolish.
          • btw

            btw your nick tells high about you.... May be u should try to install vista before rushing into judgements and calling others fools
          • been there, done that

            not impressed, but then again, what does that have to do with this whole article, oh it has nothing to do with it. Comprehension man, learn it, use it. Sometimes people show their ignorance too easily, you should work on that. You like chanting vista vista, it's a glamored version of XP with some security enhancements, big whoopty do. There's nothing in there yet that I see that my clients will have to "go out and buy".

            Again, this story had nothing to do with vista, and your ignorance of following the leader is showing. Maybe one day you're stupid little comments will be useful, but you have to put some thought into them. I told you these machines with win98 wont be able to use vista, but you keep touting it, shows you aren't a computer professional. Might want to stick to reading the tabloids and let the professionals with clients decides whats best for them.
      • ROS Explorer

        Any chance <a href="http://www.sky.franken.de/explorer/index.html">ROS Explorer</a> would work on windows 98?
        • Er.. No..

          [b]Any chance ROS Explorer would work on windows 98?[/b]

          The issue isn't about file browser shells. It's about the underlying code that allows apps to run that's the root of the problem.
          • care to be a bit more specific

            The previous poster said it was in Windows Explorer, now you are saying it is in Libraries that windows explorer uses. Do you really know? If you do, you *could* be more specific.
      • File Browser


        What people might be missing is that the file browser you're talking about is the one in Win98/ME. IE is separate from the file browser in Win98 for sure and probably in ME. In Win2k and XP, IE IS the File browser. Having done more XP Embedded image designs than I can remember, you can't take the IE components out without killing the file browser. That might be the only real truth Billy-boy may have told the DOJ about Windows. Of course it was deliberate tactic from the git-go when they knew the DOJ wasn't going to let go of the lawsuit.

        Having said all that I think they would be much smarter to offer XP Home edition at a greatly discounted price or offer a trade-in deal. Require people to bring in their LEGITIMATE Win 98/ME CD's or their OEM disks and offer the Home XP edition for $29.99. They would do themselves a great PR campaign and they would help to make the Internet a lot safer. Let them include advertising on the install disks for Vista if they want.

        Depending how far back they take the Home edition. There might be an issue with what systems they could support. I was able to operate XP Embedded on AMD K2-266 chips, but some Intel P2 systems just didn't want to work well. Its likely that only 2 or 3 applications of 40 to 50 megaybtes will work on older systems. Another problem is that the hard drives that those systems can support often don't include disk drives larger than 8 GB. Have you've seen any new 8 GB drives for sale lately?
  • The main problem with this idea is...

    many old machines running Windows 98 are incapable of running Windows XP Starter Edition. My parents have a system that has hardware made by companies that went out of business. So there are no XP drivers not to mention the processor is so slow even Windows 2000 is unbearable.

    What is needed is a system architecture that doesn't require a completely new OS every 4 or 5 years. But MS won't deliver on that since that is how they make their money. It might work if they moved to a subscription based model.
    • Overall Windows 98 is still a pretty good operating system

      Maybe somebody else can embarrass microsoft and patch it themselves like the last time microsoft dragged it's feet (around christmas) in fixing a problem.
    • Win 98SE

      I am currently using Windows 98SE on a second computer and find it convienient to just log on and check some e mail and surf ( mostly ZD Net, CNET, PC related sites)The question I have is I use Trend Micro Pc-Cillin Internet Security2006, Counter Spy, Spyware Blaster and Firefox.I am on DSL is it safe enough to keep on using 98se? Or is it time to let this PC be used as an offline gaming pc etc.
      I have a Pent ll with 333mhz and 384mb of Ram would I be pushing it trying to put Windows 2000 or XP Home on here?
      On a second note I feel M$ should put out patches as they become necessarry not this business of waiting a month in between updates.(reffering to Win 2k, XP)