Windows XP may rule the desktop now, but until about 2002, the main desktop operating system of choice for many businesses was Windows 98. Windows 2000 Professional never got a lot of traction and Windows XP faced a lot of the same launch challenges that Windows Vista does today.
In 2004, I wrote an article that argued that Windows 98 was still a viable choice for some business desktops. But what about today? Can a 10 year old operating system still make the grade? And in some cases, does Windows 98 make more sense than Windows Vista?
The answer of course depends on your users and the equipment you’re using. Windows 98’s hardware limitations make it an extremely poor choice for most newer machines. Vendors very rarely include Windows 98 drivers for most new peripherals. Most computers nowadays ship with at least 1 GB of RAM, and Windows 9x chokes with this much memory. Finally, under Windows 98, a hard drive partition formatted with FAT32, the default file system, can’t exceed 127.5 GB. What’s worse is that at that size, individual clusters are 32 KB, which can result in a lot of wasted space.
From a security standpoint, Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 98, so you’ve got to watch out for unpatched security vulnerabilities. You can minimize your exposure by making sure you’ve installed a Windows 98 – supported virus scanner and firewall as well as making sure you use modern updated software like FireFox for Windows 98. In any case, you don’t want to use Windows 98 any where security is a major concern.
So clearly, Windows 98 isn’t a choice for any machine built in the last year. On the flipside however, Windows Vista isn’t a choice for any machine that’s more than a year old. So where does that leave you?
Obviously, Windows XP is the choice for machines less than 5 years old. Properly configured however, you can still use Windows 98 in your organization. Say for example you have a user who really needs access to a laptop and all you have is a stack of machines that are perfectly good except for the fact that they’re all Pentium III based. In that case, Windows 98 just may be the ticket. Blow the dust off of it, apply all of the available patches and updated software, and your user is ready to go.