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Microsoft is explicitly not fixing a vulnerability in Windows 98 and Me. So?

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Hi everyone, this is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at askleo.info.

Recent news reports are that Microsoft is explicitly not going to fix a recently discovered vulnerability in Windows 98 and Windows Me. Their reasons are twofold: One, it would be too much work, and two, support for these versions of Windows ends on July 11 anyway.

As you can imagine, this has caused a bit of controversy. I've even heard the phrase "class action lawsuit" thrown around.

The problem is that there are two very practical realities that are totally at odds with each other.

On one hand, it's unreasonable to expect Microsoft to fix bugs in every version of Windows for all time. Not only does it not make financial sense for Microsoft to continue to support a steadily diminishing client base, but it also doesn't make practical sense. As Microsoft has stated about this particular fix, the fundamental components were radically redesigned for later versions of the operating system. In a sense the "fix" is, in fact, the newer versions of the operating system.

And let's face it, you wouldn't expect Ford to issue a recall if a design flaw was found today in, say, the Pinto of the 1970's.

On the other hand, it's equally unreasonable to expect all users to upgrade. It's often an expensive proposition requiring new hardware to support the new systems, and simply beyond the reach of many people. While the numbers continue to decrease, there are still a fair number of people running Windows ME, Windows 98 and even earlier versions.

Or to put it another way, there are still some Pintos on the road.

So what to do?

While I don't believe that they have an obligation to do it, it'd certainly be nice, and really really great PR, if Microsoft were to invest the resources to deal with Windows 98 and Me. But let's face it, that's not bloodily likely.

The practical reality is, like the owner of an aging Pinto, Windows 9x and Me users should be aware of what it is they're driving. End of support for Windows 98 and Me is not new - there's been lots of warning. The world is passing them by, and they simply aren't as safe on the road as more modern operating systems. They need to take a few extra precautions, as Microsoft even outlines, to avoid the threat posed by these vulnerabilities.

And yes, if at all feasible, they should really consider upgrading. Or even consider switching, if so inclined.

But a class action lawsuit? That's just silly, and only benefits the lawyers.

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit ask leo dot info, and enter 10411 in the go to article number box. Leave a comment, I read them all.

This is a presentation of askleo.info, a free on-line technical question and answer service. Hundreds of questions and answers are online and ready to help solve your computer problems.

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Article C2690 - June 15, 2006 « »

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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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13 Comments
Don Davis
June 15, 2006 5:42 PM

Hi Leo, I'm older and quite frankly I'm dsisgusted by this mentality that someone else should protect me from from the results of my own desisions forever. D.D.

chris
June 16, 2006 3:07 PM

i visit you site on a daily basis and i allways find somethin new that you get me into! and i forget why i came (not your fault!) i use xp pro now have done for some time and yet i have had the warnibg that i dont have a genuine copy but i am sure they will find it cost me 150 when i brought it from pc world! microsft are really doing my head in now days i use windows for my games and msn thats it other than that its a flick of the 4 pole switch to swith to linx 9.1 (power off of cause) i just hope microsoft wake up to the customers of the world and soon alot of people dont complaine they just leave the shop or the market if they find the nerve! anyway good site keep up the work! i hope maybe my site www.wotsthepoint.com will be as popular as yours (phase 2 is in motion its the linux version but its not as sipmle as i first thought lol)

Greg Bulmash
June 16, 2006 5:33 PM

The reason Windows 98 and ME need to be patched is buggy, careless code. If there is a security vulnerability discovered in their software, Microsoft should be expected to fix it for as long as their software is in the wild OR upgrade the customers to a newer version of Windows for free.

Let's say that my 1970 Pinto could fall apart like the Blues Brothers' car does near the end of the movie. This is not due to poor maintenance, wear and tear, or anything I have done. It's a design flaw that no one knew about.

But now, if some kid with an evil sense of humor and a hockey stick comes along and taps the underside of my car in the right place... crash. The car's in pieces.

I've meticulously maintained my Pinto, did everything Ford recommended. It's in good running condition, and I like it. The fact that someone can come along and turn my car into a junkpile with one well-placed tap isn't my fault. It's Ford's.

Ford should either fix the problem for free or buy back the car. Defective design is defective design, whether it rears its ugly head 6 months from purchase or 30 years from purchase.

Refusing to add functionality or upgrade an old product to keep up with changing times is one thing. If my state required that all cars run on E85 by 2008, I couldn't demand that Ford fix up my Pinto so it could run on E85. For the same reason, if the Internet moved to IPv6 and Win 98 had no support for it, I wouldn't expect Microsoft to add IPv6 support to Win 98.

But Microsoft refusing to fix design defects that leave Win 98 vulnerable to hackers with virtual hockey sticks would be just as wrong as Ford refusing to fix design defects that let a neighborhood hooligan turn your car into a pile of parts with one well-placed tap.

If you sell a badly-designed or badly-manufactured product, you should be liable for fixing design/manufacturing defects in it for as long as people use it.

I don't think someone should protect me from the results of my own decisions, but I do believe that a company that sells me a product should sell me a product that is free of defects, and if defects are found, no matter how long ago they sold it, they should be willing to fix or replace the product.

Richard Broberg
June 16, 2006 6:19 PM

I am using Win2000 Pro now and sometimes I swear I will go back to Win98SE. When I was using 98 for my Internet PC, I NEVER updated it. I just used a good firewall and a good anti-virus (Norton). I also kept IE6 SP1 updated (Internet Explorer).
I never had any problems with 98SE. Today, of course, one would need anti-spyware programs, but those are independent of the OS.
I still use 98SE for non-Internet stuff and I still love 98. I will always use 98SE. It runs fast and so far everything I have put on it runs fine.

Old gaffer
June 16, 2006 7:26 PM

SInce IE, and OE, are the vulnerable programs in Win98,etc. Why not just use FireFox and Thunderbird for your email and browser, and shutdown IE, and OE?

Old gaffer

jill
June 16, 2006 7:59 PM

Anyone who buys a Ford, whether Pinto or otherwise, is a bloody moron to begin with.

Same thing goes for those saps who are using Windows ME.

Windows ME?!

Windows ME is literally the Pinto of operating (or should I say, sometimes operating?) systems. By the way- doesn't the Pinto require leaded gasoline? If it does, then how can one drive it legally in the US when leaded gasoline is strickly verboten?

And the only thing worse than still using Windows 98SE or ME in the middle of 2006, is NOT BEING ABLE TO SPELL!! I mean c'mon people- is it too bloody difficult to use a dictionary for a word that is vexing you, or are you so attached to spell-check that if a comment box doesn't have it, then you're screwed? And what's wrong with a little punctuation now and then?

And don't respond by using that tired old comeback of "I thought that this was just an internet forum and that spelling/grammar didn't count".

Oh yeah, back to the point. It's funny how everyone expects Micro$oft to constantly update aging software (forever), when no one expects the same from other software companies. For instance, just about any antivirus program a person uses gives the user a subscription for a year to update virus definitions. After that year, one will have to pay for either a new subscription or buy another product.

And let's not even talk about those tax preparation programs, which, because of the tax laws themselves, can only be used that particular year (I think).

Yup, EVERY SINGLE PROGRAM out there has a finite life-cycle. Developers do this to keep sales going. Look, I have several VHS tapes in my movie collection. I do mostly all the things the manufactures say about their storage, yet I KNOW that eventually, the tape will just wear out! Ditto for operating systems.

I'm outta here, like spell-check.

Greg Bulmash
June 16, 2006 9:59 PM

Jill,

Let's put this analogy in a more proper light.

Expecting tax/antivirus software updates is like buying a home and expecting the builder to retrofit it every time the city changes the building code. That's unreasonable.

Expecting Microsoft to keep patching buggy software is like buying a home and expecting the builder to correct structural defects caused by shoddy construction. That's not unreasonable.

You're comparing apples to oranges.

Cars that need leaded gas get by with a combination of unleaded and additive formulas that can be purchased at most auto parts stores.

Last, do not call people morons if you cannot prove yourself beyond them. The quality of your arguments does not come close to that standard.

Leo
June 16, 2006 10:08 PM

Actually, Greg, I disagree with this statement: "Expecting Microsoft to keep patching buggy software is like buying a home and expecting the builder to correct structural defects caused by shoddy construction. That's not unreasonable."

No, it is unreasonable. No way would I expect the builder of my house to repair/replace a defect after having lived in the house for some extended period of time. Only exception might be if there were proven actual criminal negligence. I know many people would like to ascribe that to Microsoft, but it's simply not the case.

There is a line, yes? Or do you expect Microsoft to still repair defects in, for example, MS-DOS? And if not, why not?

Dan
June 17, 2006 10:35 AM

I've been using Ubuntu for a while due to the fact XP locked me out when I tried to reinstall because I've reactivated the license key to many times. It's the same computer and all that. MS just wants to squeese money out of people.

Unfortunetly, I'm going to have to buy a new license key for XP because Ubuntu doesn't have everything I need, and quite frankly I'm tired of taking the time to configure everything by hand.

All MS wants to do is squeeze more money out of already locked in customer base and it isn't fair!

Dale
June 17, 2006 11:43 AM

Microsoft has to have planned obsolescence or it
will cease to exist as an entity. Having said
that, people would like for their computers to
last longer than they do. Who wants to upgrade
every 2-5 years? Not me. Windows XP is now old.
Windows should continue supporting older systems
until their new OS comes out. If they wanted to
be a better PR company they could provide better
financial incentives for people to upgrade. Many
companies this big today seem to not care.

Ingmar
June 18, 2006 10:11 AM

Well, basically what Microsoft does is forcing one the buy their new product.

And I will not bend from my opinion. If Microsoft made a proper product to begin with, there would not be any need for this contiuous update rally.

I currently use Win 2000 Pro. I will not buy another Windows. For many reasons.
1) I do not have the resources to do it.
2) I will not have them in the future.
3) I do not like an OS that comes with spyware
as an built in part. The "Black Box" that is supposed to be a part of Vista.

Vista is a good name by the way:
(V)iruses
(I)ntruders
(S)pyware
(T)rojans
(A)dware

New opportunities for all of these.

I.F.

Mike
June 20, 2006 6:20 PM

Excellent article Leo. All of these people who are demanding that Microsoft support 95/ME forever are simply not living in reality. It is not commercially viable for any software company to support their products indefinately. Microsoft was very generous in their support of Windows 95/ME. It's an obsolete platform. Windows is NOT a free product. If you cannot afford to upgrade, then switch to a "free" alternative. Ask Apple if they still provide software updates for MacOS 8.0?

Ananda Sim
June 22, 2006 2:27 AM

Great minds journalise alike LOL! I was remarking on the same thing "Oh no, not Wndows 98 again" - http://bleedingedge.com.au/blog/archives/2006/06/oh_no_not_windows_98_again.html
Just like those vintage / veteran cars, there will be fans who should congregate and support themselves. Until such time as there is no one on this earth who will want to run it anymore.

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