Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Windows 98 and Me are no longer being supported. If you're having problems it might be time to upgrade. Perhaps even if you're not having problems.
For a long time, I've been having lots of problems with my PC: freezing up, error messages, slowness, programs won't close/end, "blue screen of death" (as a coworker calls it). Sometimes I have to reboot three times in a row.
Recently my Explorer has started to malfunction with the message: "Explorer has caused an error in MSHTML.DLL.Explorer will now close. If you continue to experience problems try restarting your computer."
With Windows ME I can't get any more updates from Microsoft. Should I upgrade to XP or Vista, and in doing so will I lose files, folders or e-mails?
Windows Millennium Edition (aka Windows Me) was released in late 2000. Windows 98 was released in 1998, with Windows 98se or "second edition" replacing it in 1999.
Many people consider Windows Me an unplanned "afterthought" ... an attempt to release something after Windows 98 to fill the gap caused by delays in the release of Windows XP, which would release a year later.
Almost eight years later, should anyone still be running Windows Me or Windows 98?
Windows XP and its successor Windows Vista represent significant improvements over Windows 98 and Windows Me (herein after referred to together as "Windows 9x"). Without getting into horribly technical details, Windows 9x was fundamentally based on the evolution of the older MS-DOS operating system which was never really intended to do all the things that Windows ended up doing. Windows XP, on the other hand, is based in Windows NT technology which was written from scratch as a more secure, more stable and ultimately full-featured operating system.
As of July 2006 Microsoft has completely dropped all support for Windows 9x. While somewhat controversial, in my opinion it's unreasonable to expect any company to support all of their products forever. You can argue over the timing perhaps still being too short, or even question Microsoft's motives, but the fact is that support was going to be terminated some day.
And, again in my opinion, doing this sooner rather than later was a good move, if only to encourage more people to move to more stable and secure platforms - be it Windows XP or even the non-Windows alternatives. Windows 9x is showing its age, and due to its various issues, was more of a liability to more users than it was worth.
So in case you haven't gathered by now, with a couple of exceptions, I strongly encourage every one still running Windows 9x to consider upgrading to something else. Particularly because newly found bugs and vulnerabilities are no longer being fixed in those platforms, continuing to use them presents a real security and stability threat.
Naturally Windows XP would be the most comfortable upgrade for most people, however if it meets your needs, switching to Linux would probably allow you to extend the life of your older hardware that might not be powerful enough for XP's higher requirements. Alternately, if you are about to upgrade or replace your hardware as well, it'd be a fine time to understand whether a Mac might be right for you.
I did say "a couple of exceptions" above, and I want to clarify that. There may be things that hold you back:
Cost. I don't want to minimize the fact that not everyone can simply afford to upgrade. Clearly there is a risk/cost tradeoff here, and if cost is truly a serious factor I'd revisit the applicability of free Linux alternatives.
Compatibility. I know of at least one business I deal with that's "stuck" with Windows 98 because the application that they're required to run is only available for Windows 98. (Or, rather, the upgrade to a Windows XP version is exorbitantly expensive.)
If you must stick with Windows 9x, and you're experiencing the problems that you describe, I would:
Perform a full backup of your entire machine.
Reformat and reinstall Windows
Reinstall all your applications.
Update anything that can still be updated.
Make absolutely sure you were behind a hardware firewall such as a router.
Make sure you find anti-virus and anti-spyware utilities that still support Windows 9x and are being updated regularly.
But I'd definitely prioritize upgrading when you can.
When the time does come to upgrade, how your existing files and folders are handled will depend on how you upgrade. Again, I always suggest a full backup so that no matter what happens the files are preserved somewhere. If you upgrade your existing machine, assuming your hardware meets the minimum requirements for XP or Vista, then your files and settings should be preserved as best they can be. If you buy a new machine, I'd actually recommend installing your old hard drive into the new machine as a secondary drive, so that you can copy off files as you need them.
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