Microsoft has issued a stay of execution for Windows 98, 98 SE and Windows ME, extending support for the geriatric trio until the end of June 2006, and tidying up their status a little, while it's about it. Win98 and SE were scheduled to take the drop this Friday, while ME was due to be around to depress us until the end of the year, with End of Life (defined as one year after an OS enters "non-supported phase" a year after that.
The change means that customers using the operating systems will still be able to get paid-for telephone support, and that Microsoft won't wash its hands entirely when it comes to security issues. Since it got the Trustworthy Computing bug the company has floated the possibility of a cull of the older products being the price of security, but it would appear this won't play with all the customers. Microsoft has also been coming under increasing pressure from open source in emerging and cash-strapped markets, so there's probably some defensive sense in it letting the 98 family run for a little while longer.
Which is a pity, considering how horrid, clunky and dated they all are. But while rational people with disposable income might reckon Microsoft could quite reasonably and public-spiritedly put a bullet in the lot of them now, you can see the problem. Microsoft has been at the forefront of the drive towards better, faster, newer that has driven upgrade cycles down to three years and below, and that has kept Microsoft and much of the IT world in business. But beyond the valued corporate customers squealing with pain over the speed of change there's the whole of the rest of the world - the rest of the world that the IT industry is eyeing greedily as a future market.
The three to five year cycle doesn't work there, nor does the notion that ever-faster hardware leads to ever more wonderful, more beneficial applications. If it ain't broke don't fix it works, but that could mean Win9x machines staying in use for even longer than Microsoft's new standard seven year lifecycle, and IT companies who want to play there having to do unnerving things like trying to fix problems with due consideration of the resources available. And get used to more leisurely product lifecycles. ®