Just days before it was to end support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition, Microsoft has decided to extend the life of the products until June 30, 2006.
The Redmond, Washington-based software vendor also extended support for Windows Millennium Edition, which was set to end December 31, 2004, until June 30, 2006, it says in a statement Monday.
Microsoft was planning to end support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition on January 16. This means that telephone support would no longer be available and Microsoft would stop releasing security updates for the operating system products. Microsoft told users to upgrade to a newer operating system if they still wanted support.
Microsoft has now reversed its decision in response to customers' needs and to bring Windows 98 SE in line with its updated product lifecycle policy, the company says. Microsoft has changed its product lifecycle policy to provide support for seven years instead of the original four, it says.
The revised product lifecycle was announced in October 2002 and applies to products released after that date as well as several operating systems that were released earlier, including Windows 2000 and Windows XP, says Matt Pilla, senior product manager at Microsoft. Windows 98 SE now also falls under that updated lifecycle policy.
Customers in western countries did not come knocking down Microsoft's door or flood the company's phone lines to ask for support extensions, according to Pilla. The high volume of general support calls in small, emerging markets including Kazakhstan, Kenya, Slovenia, Tunisia, and Ivory Coast drove the turnaround.
"We feel we have done a good job of communicating product lifecycle details, but in emerging markets we got feedback indicating that there was less of an understanding of our product lifecycle," Pilla says. "Our decision was to either extend support in those markets or do it globally. So we decided to do it globally."
Despite the availability of Windows XP since late 2001, Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE, which came to market in June 1998 and June 1999, respectively, are still widely used.
Research firm IDC estimates that over 58 million copies of Windows 98 were installed worldwide at the end of 2003, says Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software research at IDC.
AssetMetrix, an Ottawa-based IT asset analysis tool vendor, late last year collected data on over 370,000 PCs from 670 businesses in the U.S. and Canada. It found that 80 percent of those companies have at least one PC running either Windows 95 or Windows 98. The older operating systems accounted for about 27 percent of operating systems found.
"It sounds to me like Microsoft has heard from their customers who are still using their Windows 98 software and are responding accordingly," IDC's Kusnetzky says.
Michael Cherry, a lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, in Kirkland, Washington, says Microsoft's extensions may help some customers, but could frustrate others.
"It is important that a lifecycle is predictable because customers make decisions based on the lifecycle of a product. Microsoft should sit down and think about what the right length of time is and publish it rather than come up with other reasons to extend it every time we come to a deadline," Cherry says.