End of support for Windows 98 sparks IE 6 scare

Don't panic, says Microsoft, after a UK bank tells its customers that the software giant is about to end downloads of IE 6

The end of support for Windows 98 sparked alarm among users of a UK online bank on Friday after it issued a notice saying that Microsoft was about to stop downloads of Internet Explorer 6 (IE 6) from its Web site.

Microsoft has denied the claims, saying the bank had made a mistake.

In its email, the UK's FirstDirect, which is a division of the HSBC banking giant, said that from 30 June, 2003, Microsoft is removing the option to download Internet Explorer 6 for specific operating systems. "This means that anyone using Windows 98/98 Second Edition and Windows NT 4 will no longer have the option of downloading or upgrading to the latest Microsoft Internet browser online from this date," said the bank. "This will also apply to Windows Millennium edition, as of 31 December, 2003."

The bank sent out this information, it said, because the latest Microsoft browser could be required to ensure compatibility with security certificates, which are required to guarantee the authenticity of a secure Web site. "Later this year FirstDirect will be renewing its own security certificate and if you do not upgrade now it could result in some compatibility issues with our online services," said the bank.

FirstDirect went on to advise its customers who use Windows 98/98 Second Edition or Windows NT 4 to download IE 6 by 30 June, 2003, and those who use Windows Millennium edition to download IE 6 by 31 December, 2003.

Rubbish, said Microsoft. A spokesperson told ZDNet UK that the bank must have got its facts wrong. For Windows 98/98 SE, no-charge incident support and the extended hotfix support ends on 30 June, 2003. Security hotfix support, paid incident support and non-security hotfix support for Windows NT Workstation 4.0 also end on 30 June, but neither of these events has any direct effect on IE 6, downloads of which will continue to be available, said the Microsoft spokesperson.

FirstDirect's warning comes just days after a Microsoft programme manager was quoted on the company's Web site saying that future versions of Internet Explorer would not be available as stand-alone downloads. The software giant has since admitted that "nothing has yet been decided" about the future of its browser.

FirstDirect was not immediately available to provide comment.

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