Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Still running Windows 98? You're at higher risk of problems with malware and diminishing support from software vendors. I'll look at what to consider.

I am having problems finding an antivirus for Windows 98 (Sorry, but it still works for what I need). AVG discontinued support for Windows 98, so I switched to Avast. And now Avast sent me an email saying "Windows 98 is no longer supported." I'm also concerned about downloading some malware from a site that offers free antivirus. Am I condemned to getting a new computer? I can get a rebuilt computer with Windows XP installed) at a local computer store. Or should I just buy a new one with Windows 7? I really do not like Microsoft's profit system of coming out with a new OS every 2 years. Has Linux improved since your last update? My son runs Linux on the net, and he downloads Utube, etc. fast.

While I disagree with your assessment of Microsoft's motives, whether we agree or disagree the bottom line is that at some point it's just time to move on.

It's probably past time.

There are some real risks now to continuing to run Windows 95, 98 or Me. Unless you're in some very specific situations, something else is called for.

I also wouldn't call it "condemned", unless faster and safer and more capable is your idea of hell. Smile

The Problem

As you've seen, software vendors are dropping support for Windows older 9x versions (95, 98 and Me). I'm surprised that the ones you mention hung on as long as they did. For various reasons, it's a lot of extra work and expense to keep those old versions running. I'm sure they feel that their efforts are better spent on more current versions that are being used by more people. I can't say I disagree.

"Windows 98 was great in it's day - but that day has passed."

Microsoft dropped support for Windows 9x some time ago, pretty much for the same reasons. It's significant extra cost and work for an ever dwindling number of users.

The upshot is that you're vulnerable. Vulnerable to malware of various sorts. Even with a working anti-virus package, you're still vulnerable as those versions of Windows are simply not getting fixed any more. As new vulnerabilities are found they're ... left alone.

And, of course, once they're found, hackers do what hackers do ... exploit them.

The Solution

There are three directions to take this, and all have validity depending on your own needs and abilities.

Linux: I can't say whether it's right for you, but Linux has been coming along nicely in recent years. I continue to recommend Ubuntu, but particularly on older machines there are also distributions that are much smaller. You won't sidestep the lack of support issue, though, as even Linux versions are eventually mothballed as newer versions come out.

If keeping your existing hardware is of utmost importance, as is the cost of an upgrade, the Linux may very well be worth investigating.

Windows XP: the minimum version of Windows that I would recommend to anyone now is XP with SP3 applied. It can run on a machine with 256 megabytes of RAM (I wouldn't recommend less), and 20-30 gigabytes of hard disk space. If that's your Win 98 machine, then I'd claim that a trial might well be worth it. The refurbished machine as a cost saving measure is actually a pretty good idea if you're cash sensitive. You'll at least get yourself to a place where you can do what you need to do and feel pretty safe doing it.

Windows 7: naturally the longest lasting investment will be to bite the bullet and update to Windows 7. If you can afford it, if you can handle the change (coming from Win 98 you'll experience quite a number of changes), it's the path I recommend. I don't think you have to spend a lot on a machine, just make sure that it's expandable - most importantly in RAM - get 2gigs minimum, but make sure that someday if you need to you can upgrade it to at least 8.

The Exception

There actually is a scenario where it really does make sense to keep that Windows 98 machine, but I'm guessing it's not your scenario.

If it's not online. If it's fairly isolated and not likely to come into contact with the various means that malware propagates, then it might well make sense to keep it going.

But as I said, that's a fairly uncommon scenario these days.

Windows 98 was great in it's day - but that day has passed.

Article C4391 - August 8, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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32 Comments
Ken B
August 9, 2010 2:51 PM

My wife still comes across several Win9x systems in her consulting. However, a few years ago, she decided (after "one too many" nightmare fixes) that the only thing she'll do with pre-2000 systems is move the data to a new system. As you said, at some point, the tools have to abandon support for such "ancient" systems in order to add enhancements.

Bob
August 10, 2010 12:56 AM

Upgrading between operating systems is rarely simple, and often incurrs a lot more expense than just the new PC and it's OS.
I 'upgraded' from XP to Vista (my laptop finally gave out and I bought a new desktop) only to find a lot of my software, which worked perfectly well under XP, no longer functioned.
Even trying the backwards compatibility route gave no joy whatsoever.
My issues were actually the reason my company's office IT department decided NOT to upgrade from XP.

Boozer
August 10, 2010 8:19 AM

You got 4 years left of XP service pack 3 and the other two service packs are already dead. It wouldn't be a good investment to opt for a rebuilt computer with XP. I would choose Windows 7 and if you look around, you can get decent specs computers for 500. Even better, a customised computer in which you can upgrade cost only 400 is a worthwhile investment.

bill meacham
August 10, 2010 8:25 AM

The latest Ubuntu (10.04) is great for internet, word-processing, spreadsheet, etc. It's easy to upgrade, if you choose to do so, when the time comes. Just click a couple of buttons and it upgrades for you. For an older machine, Ubuntu is the best choice, unless you need some specialized Windows program. And you don't need to worry about viruses.

mark
August 10, 2010 8:38 AM

If you are using 98 on an old machine, you probably aren't doing anything that an appropriate version of Linux can't do and very likely do better. If the machine works Linux could be the perfect solution for keeping it running. I won't recommend a version as there are personal needs factors to consider but there are some light ones out that run on older machines.

Vito
August 10, 2010 8:42 AM

Well, you've bucked the "2 year conspiracy" that Microsoft has by 12 years. It's about time to come into the 21st Century.

It would be negligence to me if Microsoft didn't put out newer, better OSes every few years.

Mae Morales
August 10, 2010 8:42 AM

While I agree you can save your hardware with a Linux operating system, your recommendation to go with an XP upgrade with only 256MB of RAM and a 20-30 GB hard drive is not realistic. The computer will barely boot, and as soon as you install any antivirus software, will slow down to a crawl. Either bite the bullet and get new hardware or go with Linux.

Ray Gillett
August 10, 2010 8:44 AM

Regarding upgrade from Windows 98. I would go for XP. It`s the best Microsoft have brought out. Pity Windows 7 is not so good. I`ve got both, and I find Windows 7 both awkward to use, and slower to start up, some bits are good, but I still think XP takes some beating.

Mark
August 10, 2010 8:51 AM

Hello gang,
I MUST keep a Windows 98 computer going (among others) because it is the only version that supports Soundbridge for my digital piano, durn it. It has problems, like 1.) when I used msconfig to get rid of most of my startup apps I can't find the one to "Safely Remove Hardware" now, and 2.) When I try to run Cakewalk (DAW) it shows up in Task Manager but the interface does not actually appear. I know it's a long shot that anyone might have a suggestion, but... Leo is awesome so I'll ask. Thanks!

P.S. I keep my Win98 PC TOTALLY off of the internet.

sirpaul1
August 10, 2010 9:09 AM

All hope is not lost: http://www.mydigitallife.info/2006/07/15/free-anti-virus-and-firewall-security-freeware-supported-on-windows-98-and-windows-me/

James
August 10, 2010 9:39 AM

You can continue to use avast! anti-virus version 4.8. Do not upgrade to the version 5.

Version 4.8 continues to update itself automatically as before.

I use Win98SE for my home computer and it continues to work fine. I also use an older version of Zone Alarm for my firewall and that works fine to.

You don't have to listen to all the naysayers.

Grump3
August 10, 2010 9:48 AM

Why not isolate your W'98 from the Web & just dual-boot with a small Linux distro such as Puppy for email & surfing? No AV required.

Nicholas Gimbrone
August 10, 2010 9:49 AM

I had a WinXP w/ 512MB, 500Mhz & 20GB... only used it for web surfing (with anti-virus of course ;-)... it was a dog (which has since been put down in favor of a free replacement system). I've found that 1GB seems more like an entry memory cost for WinXP.

That said, I also seriously question the wisdom of moving "up" to a system which is nearing its end of support date (April 8, 2014 for WinXP according to the MS site).

The question would seem to revolve around what the system is actually used for. If it is strictly for surfing and email, then Linux would likely be just fine... unless trivial (in terms of user effort that is ;-) viewing of attachments is critical, in which case a survey of what attachment readers (applications) are needed would be indicated (i.e. do the needed applications exist for Linux or not?).

If you need Windows only applications (either for those attachments or for your other usage of the system), then you are locked in, and a Win7 upgrade would seem to be the choice, as low cost systems are available and may well price compete well against the XP upgrade path(s).

Remember, there are Word & Excel document alternatives for Linux, at least for simple documents.

John H
August 10, 2010 9:55 AM

I keep an old Win 95 machine dedicated specifically to use with CNC machining equipment. It still opens the old CAD program and plays MP3s on some ancient version of Winamp. It does not connect to the web or my network.

Other than that I like Windows 7 very much especially on my two tablet computers.

If I were not tied to my CAD programs I would switch to UBUNTU in a heartbeat. I try as much as possible to use multiplatform and GNU Open Source programs so when the day comes when I can get a good Linux CAD package, I'll switch to UBUNTU.

Charlie
August 10, 2010 9:56 AM

First thing first: Yes! Leave Win98 behind. It's essentially a legacy OS that hit EOL status years ago.

Second: OS upgrade/selection is only part of the story here. Hardware is another part of it -- and a big one.

Attached as the questioner may be to his computer, it can probably be assumed that the machine is pretty old if it has Windows 9x. If the computer is an OEM one that shipped with Win9x, it is probably well past the point where it could be expected to even work (HDDs are especially to be considered essentially "untrustable" after 2-3 years).

Bottom line: Win9x vintage machine? Expect the hardware to fail any minute and consider yourself lucky it hasn't already. OS choice is probably a secondary concern.

Dave Markley
August 10, 2010 10:15 AM

For just basic stuff and using the internet, there is nothing wrong with continuing to use Windows 98.

And you CAN still use AVG Free anti-virus. Go to Filehippo.com and download the 7.5 version of AVG. Kaspersky's verion 7.0 also still works.

The other good news is that just the same way many software programs won't work with Windows 98, either will many virus'.

WAYNE SCHARF
August 10, 2010 11:14 AM

Clamwin antivirus still supports w98 and it's free.

Tony M.
August 10, 2010 11:34 AM

I can definitely sympathize with the person who posed this Ask Leo question. He/she seems content with the operation of his system, that is, he can do all the things he needs to do. So if "the car" (i.e., his PC) still works well enough, it's indeed a disappointment that he might not be able to use it much longer because "maintenance" for it is no longer readily available.

I'm also sympathetic for another important reason: the need to get accustomed to doing things in substantially different ways is not a trivial change. Furthermore, in my opinion, I feel a FULL HALF of all the changes we see in each new release of Windows is either completely cosmetic or the result of a tool/function being moved or accessed in a substantially different way.

Now, hear me carefully, please. I'm not demeaning Microsoft or Windows, but I DO feel considerable frustration when it appears to me that Microsoft has switched the positions of the accelerator pedal and the brake, but for no good reason. They might call "musical dialogs" an improvement; I call it a major annoyance.

Unfortunately, this person who's been content with using the same system for more than ten years now will find his entire PC-using experience being turned on its head. Yes, I'm very sympathetic because change for the sake of change is very counter-productive; as I said above, I feel half of the changes in each release are near-pointless moves.

If Microsoft wants to move things for no good reason and/or incorporate eye candy and cosmetic changes as I've described, I think the least they could do is a better job of having the arrangement of controls preserved as much as possible. Yes, I realize Windows offers the opportunity to preserve the look/feel of some parts of their interfaces, but I feel they could do a much, much better job of it. Many of us like their Windows "gas and brake pedals" right where they are.

As this many of the other comments on this article show, there's a wide variety of opinion on the topic, and that's great. There is one theme to this comment that I want to address:

Microsoft does not make changes just for the fun of it.

I know that's difficult for many people to believe, but any change Microsoft makes to something as important as Windows has a reason. In fact, a tremendous amount of research goes into exactly how things work. Typically changes will be made in an honest effort to improve user experience and make a better product. They don't just guess at what to change, but rather to a lot of research and testing of various sorts to confirm that proposed changes meet those goals.

In general when a change is made it's because more people found it easier or more intuitive to use.

That's not saying that everyone found it easier, just that more people did.

If you're in the minority, the change will seem completely bogus - that's bound to happen to some folks as there is quite literally no pleasing everyone.

You can disagree with the change, you can disagree with the testing methodology if you like, but know that changes were most certainly not made frivolously.

They don't "leave well enough alone" because to many people it was never "well enough" to begin with. That's tht product improvement and evolution is all about.
Leo
13-Aug-2010

Mfklinux
August 10, 2010 11:55 AM

I have used Windows 98 since the beginning. It was the blue screen of death nearly every day. It was antivirus software to buy and a lot of other things you could do without.
I eventually tried Debian linux. I had a lot of problems with it, but one was not big fees for cosmetic changes. Eventually someone told me about Linux Mint 7, which is an offshoot of Ubunta, which is an offshoot of Debian. The Mint group has made extra efforts to make it easy of inexperienced users. It all loads very quickly, is free, has 30,000 programs free at the click of a few keys. It is very easy to use. There is not much need for an AV program if you use Linux, Firefox, and Thunderbird. Linux Mint 9 is now the version I use. There is no blue screen of death now.
I kept 98 for a long time (it is on an updated computer that I assembled), but I have something much better now.
It is rumored that Google Chrome and Windows 7 are based on Linux. I do not know if there is any truth in that rumor.

Windows 7 most certainly is not based on Linux. It's based on Windows Vista which is based on Windows XP which is based on Windows 2000 which is based on Windows NT.
Leo
13-Aug-2010

Richard in Dallas
August 10, 2010 12:26 PM

I use Win 98SE on a stand alone PC that has no connection to the Internet or to my XP Internet machine.

I mainly use it for Word processing and for some DOS based games that I still like to play.

I have added CD RW hardware and a Nero version that supports 98 to create CDs that are my connection to my XP machine.

Craig
August 10, 2010 3:27 PM

I totally sympathise with the original poster. I used to take in old computers from large organisations and wipe them, reloade with Win98 and made fully functional with all office and image-editing software and internet ready, to "give away" to primary school kids. I gave away about 30 of these machines, but in the end had to give up the practice because I ended up with a whole room full (from floor to ceiling) of computers that I couldn't give away, just because they were built with Win98. So becaue the parents are such advocates to consumerism, the kids missed out.
There is nothing wrong with any computer running any system if it is doing the job.
I am hugely opposed to change for the sake of change. As a home useer with kids using computers, and as IT manager for a graphics business, I find it unnecessarily expensive to continually update because manufacturers just choose not to support their product any more.
** If it aint broke, don't fix it!!

thanks for an Xcellent site Leo.

John
August 10, 2010 3:41 PM

XP Pro crashed one to many times on my daughters computer so i installed Ubuntu and we have found it to be extremely reliable and fast. It boots up so quick i still can'not believe it! It leaves my Vista laptop for dead!!! There is so much free software to choose from to add to it it just blows me away.
We highly recommend it.

Peter Ballantyne
August 10, 2010 3:47 PM

Well, this might be a bit out of left field, but if an older machine can scrape up enough spec to run Vista with SP2 that's not such a bad option. I realise this may not be relevant to the OP unless he is considering replacing his grand old 98 machine. I would like Win 7 but it's just too dear for me, so I found I was able to buy two Vista Home Premium full (not OEM) licenses off Trademe (New Zealand's equiv. of eBay) for less than half the original cost of just one. Once Vista has SP2 on board it's a great OS. Nobody wants it now because 7 is the latest & greatest, but its very popularity has opened a temporary window for anyone wanting Vista to get it at a really low price. And truly, once SP'd it's every bit as good as Win 7!

Just my 2 cents worth.

Michael
August 10, 2010 10:37 PM

The old adage (or is it new) "You don't need a Mac Truck to deliver eggs" and for that matter neither do you need a Ferrari!
If all you do is some web browsing, get/send emails, and do some word processing then - Win 98 will do it fine, as will Wxp SP2 and my experience in the field since i began sugesting to customers to not accept MS upgrades any more, is that they experience less attacks in contrast to most i visit who have their system studded with the latest anti virus software and so called critical updates, security patches, whatever!
The only reason i went to service pack 2 on my machine is because AVG no longer ran on Wxp sp1.
Upgrading to a new Os every 2 years generates jobs and dollars. I have had no serious virus issue for 7 years and my customers who avoid the bad sites say the same!! I know some will slam me over this, but this is my experience, and i have been in computing for over thirty years. If i lose Av function for Wxp i will go to Ubuntu. For those customers not running MS based games i will load up Ubuntu for them at no charge! (I will be retired by then anyway)

Bernard Winchester
August 11, 2010 3:29 AM

Well, I was given a computer running XP last year after AVG8 had slowed it down so much that it had become barely usable. I uninstalled AVG and have been using it with no security software ever since (there is a hardware firewall in the router). So far I have had no problems. I check any downloads from unknown sources with an online scanner, such as Jotti, before running them. Clearly there are risks in this approach, but it works for me. The computer is much more responsive. A Google search for "windows 98 antivirus free" also produces some options for products which still work with 98.
Windows 2000 is also a relatively light OS which is more stable than Windows 98 and will probably be supported for a godd deal longer.
Good luck!

Nick
August 11, 2010 12:27 PM

I missed Windows 98 altogether, somehow jumping from Windows 95 through XP Home Edition then to XP Professional. This last was a last chance taken up in order to avoid Vista, of which I'd heard bad reports at the time - in particular that many businesses were not converting to it. I find XP really good, dead easy to get on with and so far after I guess around 5 years have encountered no serious problems. I had a crash a few years ago but that was a simultaneous motherboard failure and (related? I don't know) external drive failure. Avoid cluttered desktop by moving desk icons into Windows Explorer. I've never tried Linux or other OS and would need a "guru" to guide me before I'd take the plunge. Although it does sound good, I have a lot of my own stuff on (a very old version of) Visual Basic, which I wouldn't expect would work with Linux.

Nick
August 11, 2010 12:31 PM

Oh, I forgot to say that for protection I switched from McAfee (paid for) to (free of charge) MS Security Essentials when it came out, no problems apparent so far.

John
August 11, 2010 7:06 PM

l fully agree with Craig: "if it ain't broke don't fix it". As long as your OS is doing the job to you satisfaction, why change? Here is a switch: l installed Win 3.11 on a Dell Optiplex P4 1.8 Gb 5 years ago because my old computer bit the dust. When l bought the Dell l dumped XP that was on it and have been running 3.11 ever since. The reason? All my familiar software would not run on XP, so l would have to replace them too...Another bonus: the computer is ready for action in 45 sec. l could shave off another 20 sec of that if l could figure out how to get rid of GoBack3, which makes the computer sit for 20 sec before it continues (it says internal version, maybe in BIOS ?)Starting off MS Word: 1 sec same with XL.
Only drawback is that l cannot access the web but l have other computers for that, computers that run XP and take up to 2 1/2 miutes to boot...a minute to shut down...Talking about speed demons!
Stick with what you got and be happy...
Regards,
John

Steve
August 13, 2010 2:47 PM

Switch to a Mac and you'll never go back.

1101doc
August 13, 2010 5:21 PM

I suspect that Puppy Linux or DSL (D*mn Small Linux) would be worth investigating on that hardware. While XP will "run" on 256 RAM, it needs a huge page file and is often very slow, especially on 98 machines that often have less than a 1Ghz processor.

An off-lease (refurbished) XP machine would make sense on a budget.

Carlos Coquet
August 28, 2010 4:09 AM

Although not mentioned here, there are some very solid reasons for running old software. I have some clients with businesses that run on a single application and they are perfectly happy with DOS programs that do exactly what they want.
In some instances, programs depend on hardware whose manufacturer went out of business long ago, ISA interfacing cards for instance. I rarely see an ISA slot in machines newer than Pentium II's. One client runs a laser show thru one such card. Another does acoutical studies thru another ISA card. A cleaners chain is running very old DOS software which has copy protection plugs that depend on a parallel port, another hardware item that has been disappearing. In these cases, Windows 98 is about their last possible UPGRADE.

WAYNE SCHARF
June 26, 2012 7:37 PM

In spite of what you have heard, there still is a working antivirus that runs on w98. It's a little slow, but seemingly pretty thorough...CLAMWIN.
Finding a decent browser that works, however, is another matter...

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