Microsoft has extended the life of Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition (SE) until 30 June, 2006.
The company has also extended support for Windows Millennium Edition, which was set to end on 31 December.
Microsoft had intended to end support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 Second Edition on 16 January. It had told users to upgrade to a newer operating system if they still wanted support.
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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 said. Microsoft has changed its product lifecycle policy to provide support for seven years instead of the original four.
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, said Matt Pilla, senior product manager at Microsoft. Windows 98 SE now also falls under that updated lifecycle policy.
The high volume of general support calls tend to come from small, emerging markets including Kazakhstan, Kenya, Slovenia, Tunisia and Ivory Coast.
"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 said. "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 more than 58 million copies of Windows 98 were installed worldwide at the end of 2003, said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of systems software research at IDC.
"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 said.
Michael Cherry, a lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said 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," he said.
Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service