You may have read that Microsoft has launched a beta version of its browser, Internet Explorer 7. An aspect of this that seems to have not received widespread publicity is the fact that with IE 7, Microsoft has effectively killed off Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
In an interview with eWeek, Gytis Barzdukas, director of product management in Microsoft’s security business technology, says: “When we do all this engineering work, the architecture is changed significantly. In some cases, it’s more expedient for customers to just move to a new operating system where the enhancements are easier to deploy.” Ah. So that’s all we have to do?
Of course, it’s not the first time that folk still using Windows 98 have been left out. Windows 98 has not been supported by Microsoft since June 2002; ‘hotfixes’ — vital software patches, usually security-related — have not been provided since June 2003. The Windows 98 homepage has not been updated since October 2002, and the ‘Still Using Windows 98?’ tip page hasn’t seen a revision since September 2000.
So how many Windows 98 users are there out there? One poster to a Firefox forum reckoned between 20–30% of users, while a survey by AssetMatrix recently concluded that Windows 2000 “still accounts for nearly half of all Windows-based business desktops”, according to ZDNet.
This is always a tough one for Microsoft. It’s easy enough with physical products because there’s not much more you can do to support them, except fix them if they’re broken. With individual software products you could provide upgrades and fixes until a new version comes along but the choice for the consumer is clearer: Stick with an old version of Office if you are happy with the features, and the only thing Microsoft can think of to get back at you is call you a dinosaur (“Ouch! That hurt!”). Most programs have too many features, anyway, so the lure of more features isn’t that much of a lure for most people.
But operating systems — and any software that interacts with the Web and so needs security features — are different. Stop adding fixes and features and the software is effectively useless for the customer. So by not making IE available to Windows 2000 and 98 users, those folk are stuck. Unless of course they move over to Firefox or Opera. And what happens if they stick with IE 6? The first security vulnerability to come along is going to hit the most vulnerable bunch of people — folk who, for one reason or another, are quite happy with their Windows 98 computer.