Today, Microsoft finally dropped support for Windows 98. Although most technical support for Windows 98 dried up years ago, Microsoft has at least still been supplying updates for security issues that have cropped up with the operating system. Not anymore.

Microsoft actually continued support for Windows 98 much longer than it originally planned. Microsoft traditionally abandoned support for products about 5 years after their follow up version shipped. That means that support for Windows 98 should have stopped after 2004 – 5 years after Windows ME shipped. Windows 98 proved to be such a popular operating system however, that Microsoft was forced to hang onto Windows 98 until now.

By definition, Windows 98 is an 8 year old operating system. In Internet Years, that’s more like 80 years – archaic and long obsolete. The problem is of course that an estimated 50 million people still use Windows 98. W3Counter Global Statistics, a tracking site made up of reports from over 1300 websites, shows that Windows 98 is still as popular as the Mac.

Windows 98SE was arguably the most popular version of Windows until Windows XP shipped. It even took Windows XP several years to exclipse Windows 98 in popularity. Many businesses sat out Windows 2000 Professional completely and stuck with Windows 98. Windows 98SE was probably also the best DOS-based version of Windows, being more solid and reliable than any version, including the ill-fated Windows ME. Even as little as 2 years ago, I wrote an article giving reasons why sticking with Windows 98 was still a good idea.

Of course, there are probably still lots of unpatched bugs inside of Windows 98. Security holes have appeared as recently as the last few months. More are bound to be discovered. The only difference is now, 50 million plus users can’t rely on Microsoft to fix them.

Microsoft is expecting users to upgrade to Windows XP, and hopefully ultimately with Windows Vista. You can’t really expect Microsoft to support an 8 year old operating system, and they should probably be praised for hanging in there so long. At the same time, Microsoft can’t really think people will upgrade directly from Windows 98 to Vista or XP. Most 98-class machines can’t run XP let alone ever hope to run Windows Vista. Most Windows 98 users will continue to run Windows 98 and just be vulnerable to whatever comes along.

Windows 98 represents the penultimate version of Windows 95. As Windows Vista’s ship date recedes into the distance, you constantly hear comparisons between it and the ‘revolutionary’ Windows 95. Remember that when Windows 95 shipped, people were out at stores at midnight to be the first to purchase it. It will be interesting to see whether Windows Vista gets the same welcome.