Windows 98 support shifts to CD

Windows 98 will only be supported by Microsoft for another week; after that, users will have to rely on a free CD containing hints and tips

When Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows 98 support next Friday, the company will make available a free CD designed to help users "make the most of " the ageing operating system without any further assistance from the software giant.

Six years after its launch, Windows 98 is still used by around a quarter of Web surfers. Microsoft announced last year that it would stop supporting Windows 98 from 15 January 2004, meaning that millions of users will soon be left exposed when new exploits and vulnerabilities are discovered.

Lars Ahlgren, senior marketing manager at Microsoft, told ZDNet UK that the CD, which has been created in partnership with Future Publishing's Windows magazine, will provide hints and tips, technical content and exclusive Knowledge Base (KB) articles. The content will also be published on Microsoft's support Web sites. "We have made an arrangement with Future Publishing so we get Windows 98 content that is not just technical, it is also about how to get more from your Windows 98 machine. For those who have difficulties getting on the Web or want the content on a CD, we will ship them the CD for free if they call us or register on the Web," said Ahlgren.

Ahlgren also admitted that Microsoft is hoping to keep Windows 98 users' expectations low, so if there is a serious security breach that the company decides to fix, they will be pleasantly surprised. He said "it remains to be seen" if there will be further updates, but "we want to set expectations and over-deliver rather than under-deliver."

Users who need to do a clean install of Windows 98 will, for the moment, still be able to connect with the Windows Update service in order to install the most recent patches, but the future of this service is far from clear: "We have not yet made a decision when we are going to remove Windows update. We realise there is a huge install base out there so we will try to be as open and loud as possible with our decision," he said.

Ahlgren pointed out that certain patches released in the future could be generic and work on all Windows operating systems, including Windows 98. In that case, an update would be possible: "If the patch is a generic Windows patch that applies to Windows 98, it will be available," he said.

Before Microsoft does remove the live update function for Windows 98, users will be able to download and burn the patches onto a CD in case they are needed at a later date.

Last month, Microsoft began testing a security CD that was designed to enable users of older versions of Windows with low bandwidth connections to update their systems.

Microsoft said the Windows 98 support CD and the new content on its support Web sites should be available from 15 January 2004.