Windows 98 lifeline 'prompted by Linux threat'

Windows 98 lifeline 'prompted by Linux threat'

Summary: Microsoft has extended support for Windows 98 because it is worried users may switch to Linux, say analysts


The growing threat from Linux is responsible for Microsoft's last-minute decision to extend the life of Windows 98. Analysts say there has never been a better time to try and negotiate a deal on the company's software.

Various research indicates that Windows 98 is still installed on about a quarter of all PCs, meaning that if Microsoft had stopped supporting the operating system as planned, the next time that a security bug was discovered, millions of PCs would be left vulnerable and users would be left with the option of either upgrading to a newer version of Windows, or looking for an alternative. Although many companies would upgrade because their applications or hardware require Windows, a significant chunk would be free to consider alternatives, such as Linux.

Lars Ahlgren, a senior marketing manager at Microsoft, told ZDNet UK that although Microsoft has not made any money from Windows 98 for some time, the company is keen to hold onto its customers and is hoping another couple of years getting used to the Windows look and feel will tie them in for life. "The more they are used to working one way, the more [it is] likely they will want to continue working that way, so it plays to our advantage. If they move to another operating system, they will need to rethink and relearn. For some people, that is painful. This is also why so many people are resisting an upgrade from Windows 98," he said.

James Governor, a principal analyst at RedMonk, said Microsoft didn't have much choice but to extend support for Windows 98, for two reasons. First, he said, Linux has become a real threat, and although it wouldn't have swallowed up all the old Windows 98 users, it would make a difference. "I'm not going to say a large chunk of the install base would have moved to Linux, but certainly there is an alternative there -- but I don't want to overstate that," he said. Governor also pointed out that unlike the dot-com boom years, companies simply can't afford to invest in new hardware in order to upgrade their operating system: "Given the terrible state that budgets have been in over the past few years and continue to be in, we are not seeing a lot of money being freed up. Companies are saying 'this is good enough so why should we change?'," he said.

Gary Barnett, research director at Ovum, said that although Linux is not a viable alternative for mainstream users at the moment, he expects that it will be in a year's time. This means, according to Barnett, that Microsoft is going to find it increasingly difficult to maintain its unfeasibly high profit margins. "Microsoft has always publicly said it does not negotiate or do special deals on price, but the truth is that Microsoft is going to be obliged to do an increasing number of them. We have already seen it in the Asia-Pacific region, where they hugely discounted Office. Linux has a crucial role in giving people choice and also [in] curbing the incredible margins Microsoft has been making out of Office," he said.

Governor agrees that Microsoft is going to take a hit when it comes to profit margins and advises firms to start negotiating: "With licensing issues, there is no way Microsoft is going to have its own way at the moment. Microsoft is and will respond to user pressure around software pricing. If users have felt in the past that they can't negotiate, now is the time because there is some real competition in desktops and that can only be good for customers," he said.

However, Annette Jump, an analyst at Gartner, said Microsoft will continue to have a huge advantage over Linux because so many companies have long-term commitments to Windows-based applications, meaning the cost of migrating those applications would overshadow any Microsoft licensing fees: "When companies start seriously thinking about Linux, they quickly realise that it is not simple. Generally, a company or department with 1,000 PCs will have around 100 applications that would need to be moved over to Linux. They would immediately save on the cost of operating-system licence but they will have to spend money on educating their users and migrating their systems," she said.

Topic: Operating Systems

Munir Kotadia

About Munir Kotadia

Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.

Munir was recognised as Australia's Best Technology Columnist at the 5th Annual Sun Microsystems IT Journalism Awards 2007. In the previous year he was named Best News Journalist at the Consensus IT Writers Awards.

He no longer uses his Commodore 64.

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  • Once a company ports its apps over, what would the OS upgrade cost be over the next 100+ years? If it is Debian, the cost would be Labor+ "0" license cost. Same for a office suite if they go for OpenOffice. These two products cost nothing for licensing, and will in all likelyhood be developed for the forseeable future. TCO over the time an employee is with the company is therefore much less then MS.
  • The "Linux threat" article hits the nail on the head except for not giving enough attention to non-commercial computer users. Albeit that most of the money comes from companies that use them for business, but I'll bet that almost every other house on the block has a pc which is used mainly for non-business purposes, and those users are getting tired of shelling out big bucks for upgrades and downloading patches for a faulty OS. Once MS pulls the plug on 98SE (if not before) I probably will turn to Linux for my next OS. Changes are occuring very rapidly which are making Linux more appealing for the average user without sacrificing it's main strengths, i.e.: stability, no cost, configurability, security, etc.. I think maybe MS has underestimated the willingness of this kind of user to negotiate what appears to be a diminishing learning curve.
  • They need to get rid of win98 altogether. Its not very useful for broadband connections at all. Always seem to one error after another
  • Shaun says "They need to get rid of win98 altogether. Its not very useful for broadband connections at all. Always seem to one error after another"
    Not my experience. My win98SE system is rock-solid with NTL cable modem via ethernet. You've probably got some dodgy hardware.
    The only maojor problems I've had in 4 years intensive use of win98SE were random crashes due to a dodgy memory chip.
    However, I'm in the process of moving to Linux (because of product activation in newer Windows versions, cost, closed source issues etc.) and I'd like to thank MS for giving me extra time to complete my switch over at leisure.
  • I find it amusing when the analysts comment on the money that will need to spent "re-educating users". This is certainly true but it's equally true for the move from the 9x platform to the Win2k/XP platform.

    The other thing that seems to get left out of the cost equation is the enormous amount of software that gets bundled in Linux distributions. Open office, Gimp, the ability to read and write PDF files and numerous development tools to name a few; all included.

    There are also many hidden costs to Windows as well. Ask any IT department that spent last summer fighting SoBig, slammer and various other threats how much time and effort was spent on that.

    Sometimes it helps to look at the whole picture.
  • Migrating to a newer Windows isn't free of migration and re-training costs as the article seems to assert.

    The difference between the user interface of w98 and KDE or GNOME isn't obviously greater than the difference between w98 and wXP, so why would the re-training costs for users be much different?

    AFAIU, the biggest problem is MS Office macros which aren't supported very well (at all?) by Other proprietary Windows apps can be run using Wine, or VMWare.
  • I'm no IT expert, just a user, who wants things to work, first time. If I do have problems then I want an OS that you don't need a degree in computing to put right. Tried to install an epson printer in Mandrake linux. I needed to use the command line for christ sake- Share printers and files in samba? It's possible but not very straight forward - I'm sorry but I have a life and until Linux is as easy to use as XP then windows is what I'll continue to use
  • The desktop Linux experience has been steadily improving over the last few years, and you can expect the improvments to continue. This is a delaying action on Microsoft's part. This means that by the time MS does drop support for Windows 98, Linux-on-the-desktop will be an better option than it is today. MS is only putting off what seems to be inevitable.
  • To the person who complains about Mandrake:

    have you tried doing a clean installation of WinXP? It is a more frustrating experience than installing Linux. I have installed Mandrake 3 times and never had any issues with it, once I had a problem with an incompatibility with a AMD CPU and I found out what I needed on the Mandrake website. Support for Linux is unmatched.

    Also, anonymous posters who complain without facts always smell like trolls.
  • This writer has no clue! When does any one user have 100 / hundreds of apps installed? Pure FUD!
  • I'm so happy that M$ is feeling the pressure a little, their prices are redicilous.
    Mandrake 9.1 has replaced xp since april03 for me, I didnt have to install anything to get images off my camera, it just mounted usb "drive", my printer didnt need any command line stuff nor did my midi controller, and i get no crashes at all.
    98 should be for the person with an aol account on a 233mhz machine. If thats what they want then fine. I know that 98 is a pain in the ass compared to xp, or mandrake from anyones perspective.
    I thought Win2K was the best from M$.
  • Quote;
    >To the person who complains about Mandrake:
    >have you tried doing a clean installation of WinXP?

    Yes, often and smoothly without exception. With respect I am no troll, I'm sorry if it came accross as such.

  • Having 100's of applications:
    Everyone who has kids knows this: and every CD/ed software program or game has to 'install' instead of just running under the OS. (try an Amiga once) After a few weeks, any 'clean' Microsloth install bogs down and the 'Windows Exploder' starts to chug. Then everything else starts to chug.
    I have also worked in R&D testing, and instrumentation and control breeds new applications faster than rabbits can multiply.
    I'm not thrilled with Lindows or Mandrake right now, waiting for Suse to arrive, but I'll keep trying until I find one that installs as advertised, and when I do, I will put up a sign and start selling systems, because the world needs it. I encourage anyone else to do the same.
    Buy less, Buy local, Buy Linux. Even if it doesn't work yet, it will improve sooner than Windows will get fixed.
  • To the offensive trollcatcher:

    True, Mandrake is a bit less pain in the neck to install than XP, but unlike with XP in Mandrake:
    -my printer prints horrible, washed out looking pages
    -my 24bit/96kHz soundcard works as a 16 bit soundblaster clone (when I can get it to work through the command line)
    -XMMS freezes and engraves itself upon the desktop
    -I have to start Xserver MANUALLY after each boot
    -I cannot connect to the internet because AOL doesn't support Linux (and if you would like to try to dismiss my intelligence as inferior for using AOL, step VERY carefully, things are not always as they seem)
    -3D acceleration for my graphics card (earlier NVidia) isn't supported

    So to sum it up: Net doesn't work, 3d doesn't work, sound is not what I paid for and printing results are unusable.

    Oh, and I tried Debian and several other distros too. Debian runs once to run never again. Is that a feature or a bug.

    Now I would really, really like to have an alternative to M$, but until Linux proves itself to be IT, hide your religious convictions under a rock, because you do more damage than good to the cause.

    p.s.: I don't have to mount absolutely anything in XP to use my digital camera. Just plug it in.
  • I use 98se on my desktop and it isn't broke so why spend money on and upgrade to XP ? In any case XP refuses to acknowlege my laser printer's existence (starwintype 4000) so I'll stay put thank you. (I have a laptop with XP)
    On reading your article I hightailed it to the windows98 update site and find nothing works there anymore. So tell me, where do I get any updates from?
    Also why do these printer companies not provide drivers for XP?
  • Dear Rocco Barocco,

    The simple reason some hardware doesn't work under Linux is because the developers of most hardware have a(n evil) contract with M$ so M$ gets the tech-specs. - exclusively !
    Maybe after a (some) year(s) or so (some of) the tech.specs. are published openly so the Open Source Community is able to write Linux-drivers for the damn thing.
    (Another option might be to apply "reversed engineering" to new hardware, although this is in some cases considered _illegal_ in the USA.
    Imagine this: people getting real smart - smarter than their rulers.. :-) ).

    I know this problem quite well - being active in IT R&D for over a quarter of a century by now.
    The only option is to urge (and warn !) professional users and governments to switch to Linux a.s.a.p.
    (E.g. your fysician, if (s)he uses (is being abused by) M$ _YOUR_ medical records might be out there - in the hands of M$ and God knows who else... :-( )
    If they trust M$ they are abusing your civil rights and putting vital & sensitive info about _YOU_ in the hands of an evil monopolist...

    If I find out anybody having stored _MY_ personal, medical or any other sensitive info on a M$ windoze (called "$tinch-box" by me :-) ) that turns out to be virtually unprotected (most M$-crap is !) I might:
    Crack their $tinch-box and delete the info concerning me - all of it ! - or:
    File complaints against them for violating my civil rights & pivacy !
    I'd prefer the first, altough to some it may seem illegal to do so.
    However, isn't any (medical) info about _ME_ my belonga ?

    The real beauty of Open-Source Wares (like Linux) is there are _NO_ backdoors or other spyware in it - because everbody smart enough to understand source-code would find out soon enough and scream it all over the WWWeb !
    As far as I can remember (mind you, I've got an elephants memory like most Hackers) this didn't ever happen - not even once.

    Compare this issue with common politics:
    Openly ruled countries = real civil rights, democrazy, independant humane justice.
    (like many European countries, like Sweden, Danmark, Holland and Finland).
    Secrectly ruled countries = no rights whatsoever, dictatorship, selective inhumane "justice" (= no justice at all - like the USA today...
    They even put minors and retards to . . . death - for crimes they might not have commited at all... ).
    Everbody still preferring M$ should move to a dictatorship - like the USA under "fuehrer" bu$h and "unterfuehrer" rum$feld !!!
    Perhaps I'm gonna live in Danmark - or even better - in Finland - in a real civilized place, that is !
    USA land of the free - yeah, right !
    And, of course, pigs can fly nowadays !! (Indeed, when bu$h or rum$feld (or bill gate$) goes somewhere by plain... :-) ).

    Yours sincerely,

    Tim Isher (Right now in Brisbane, Australia).
  • Great news. I still use Windows 98 SE because I've felt no need to upgrade. I don't use games etc. and 98SE is perfectly satisfactory for broadband internet and MS Office.
  • Ah, what about the cost of migrating to Longhorn, considering that it is likely to break all previous Windows (9x/ME, NT/2K/XP/2K3) software and require a lot more retraining than even the shift from Win95 to Win NT 4.0 required.

    Businesses have to consider these matters as well as the cost of retraining for shifting from Microsoft to Linux.

    It's also the fact that not only will Microsoft do an HIV on your previous software, it will also do an ebola on previous Microsoft file formats - if they want to "differentiate" themselves from themselves. And people do get sick of that uncertainty - no wonder is starting to take off.
  • I use Win98SE for games and it works great. I have not choice which electric company to use or water so whats the big deal about microsoft. Shoot i can't even choice my cable company. I can't guess for the life of me why pick on microsoft and not this other companys. They collect data about all their user also.Bill Gates puts back more money in the system than any other company in this Country.
  • i use windows 98 for games AND work based activites i also tried win 2k and mandrake linux win 2k runs all my office based applications 100% fine but try an make it run a game is virtually impossible u have to turn off any advanced features or it has a spasm,freezes or puts up a BSOD. Mandrake linux i did like, although i couldnt run most of windows work apps i found that there were plenty of free alternatives that in a lot of cases were better i could also get some winapps to run in WinE i did intend to persvere with it till pressure from my family forced me back into the micr$hit rut again and back went win98