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Microsoft to close security updates on old Windows

As of mid-July, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates for Windows 98 and Windows Me. Experts say the decision is likely long overdue.

Microsoft has announced that it will be ending support -- including security updates -- for its Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, and Windows Millennium Edition (Me) on July 11, 2006. However, analysts suggest that the change won't exactly send shockwaves through the security community.

According to Microsoft's bulletin, it will continue to offer a repository of information on the operating systems via its support Web site, but the time has come to foster adoption of newer operating systems.

"Microsoft is retiring support for these products because they are outdated and can expose customers to security risks," Microsoft said. "We recommend that customers who are still running Windows 98 or Windows Me upgrade to a newer, more secure Microsoft operating system, such as Windows XP, as soon as possible."

"The Windows 98-class operating system was basically not securable, lacking memory protection and other essential security features," noted Dan Kaminsky, senior security researcher and founder of Seattle-based DoxPara Research. "Anyone still using Windows 98 is not very concerned about security, so this announcement should not have great impact."

Laura DiDio, analyst with the Boston-based Yankee Group, concurred. "These operating systems were developed before today's security threats on the Internet and corporate Intranets. It's time for them to go."

DiDio credited Microsoft for supporting the operating systems for so long and for announcing its intentions well in advance. "Most companies support one or two previous versions of a product. These operating systems are almost a decade old."

The analysts also suggest that it would be unlikely that current 98 or Me users would upgrade to more modern versions, such as Windows XP or Microsoft's anticipated Vista.

"Users have had the opportunity to upgrade for a long time," Kaminsky said. "It's unlikely that they would choose to do so now as a result of this announcement."

Added DiDio, "These are largely consumer -- not corporate -- users with older hardware. They will probably hang on to the older operating systems until the hardware fails, or they obtain new hardware, which usually includes a new operating system."

Microsoft had previously extended the end-of-life date for Windows 98 from January 2004 before announcing the new date.

Edmund X. DeJesus is a freelance writer in Norwood, Mass.

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