With Windows 98 being phased out and Microsoft ending support for it, now is the time to upgrade your organization’s clients, if you haven’t done so already. When you do decide to upgrade your operating system, you have a couple of choices. You could upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional; however, Windows 2000 has been around for a few years already, and you may soon find this operating system being phased out as well. So you’ll probably be better off upgrading to Windows XP. Going from Windows 98 directly to Windows XP is a big jump, though, and there are several issues that you should consider before making such a change.

Hardware compatibility
Memory, hard disk space, and processing power are some of the most important things to consider when contemplating a leapfrog migration. While these concerns are raised during any OS upgrade, they become more critical when skipping OS versions.

Windows XP requires significantly more memory, hard disk space, and processing power than Windows 98. Unless your system has at least a 700-MHz processor, 256 MB of memory, and 2 GB of free hard disk space, I don’t recommend loading Windows XP. Sure, Windows XP will run on lesser hardware—Microsoft states the recommended minimum requirements to be a 300-MHz processor, 64 MB of memory, and 1.5 GB of hard disk space—yet on this type of system, Windows XP will run so slowly that it will be practically unusable.

Another hardware issue is your system’s video card. Windows 98 was designed to run at a minimum video resolution of 640 x 480. Although there are ways of tricking Windows XP into running at 640 x 480, parts of the screen will be inaccessible. Windows XP has a minimum resolution of 800 x 600. Furthermore, on many of the machines that I’ve seen, the text on the screen is very difficult to read at 800 x 600 resolution. I recommend verifying that your video card can support 1024 x 768 resolution and that Windows XP drivers are available for it.

Lastly, some older hardware simply won’t work under Windows XP. For example, I previously used a Microsoft Cordless Phone system, but the hardware doesn’t run under Windows XP, so I had to give it up.

Software compatibility
Generally speaking, if an application will run under Windows 98, it will usually run under Windows XP. The biggest exception is software tied to a specific hardware component. For example, if you have an old parallel port–based scanner, you probably have software that allows you to interact with that scanner. Although Windows XP does support parallel ports, don’t expect your scanner hardware and software to run under Windows XP. Sure, there’s a chance that it will, but this tends to be the exception rather than the norm.

Aside from software that’s closely related to the hardware, just about all other applications that run under Windows 98 will run under Windows XP. A few more exceptions are custom Control Panel applications, some antivirus software, and applications that rely on DOS-level drivers.

Windows XP can correct many software compatibility problems using the Program Compatibility Wizard, which tricks applications into thinking that they are running under a different Windows version.

Choose the proper upgrade path for you
Once you’ve confirmed that your hardware and software are compatible, you have several choices for the migration process:

  • You can install Windows XP on top of Windows 98.
  • You can export your files and settings, blank the PC, install Windows XP, and import your files and settings.
  • You could just install everything from scratch.

There are pros and cons to each technique. If your machines are jam-packed with files and applications and you need to make absolutely sure that nothing is lost, you are usually best off installing Windows XP over the top of Windows 98. The biggest downside to using this technique is performance. This technique tends to leave a lot of hard disk clutter and unnecessary registry entries, resulting in a system that may run very slowly.

The next technique is to use the Windows XP Files And Settings Transfer Wizard to back up your files and settings. The idea is that you can use the wizard to create a compressed copy of all of your files and settings. You can then copy the compressed file to a CD, blank the hard disk, and install Windows XP. When Windows installs, you can use the wizard to import the compressed file.

This technique tends to work surprisingly well. The only downside is that if you have something really obscure on your system or have data saved in strange places, those files or applications may not migrate. If you are considering using this method, I recommend running the Files And Settings Transfer Wizard to create the compressed file, loading Windows XP onto a spare PC, and importing the compressed file. This strategy allows you to test the migration.

One other technique that you can use is to simply blank the hard disk and install all of the applications from scratch. From a performance standpoint, this technique is the best. The downside is that it can be time-consuming and that unless you back it up, any data saved on the PC will be lost. This technique is great for network workstations in organizations that save all data onto a network server.