Users running Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition (SE) or Windows Millennium Edition (ME) won’t be able to count on Microsoft for help after July 11. The computer software company is doing away with security updates and tech support for the antiquated operating systems.
Microsoft representative Kelsey Palaniuk said Microsoft decided to end support because the systems are nearing the end of their technological life cycle and it is becoming harder to repair security lapses. Windows 98, 98 SE and ME were developed before the era of sophisticated Internet-based attacks and can’t always support security updates that offer better protection, she said.
‘‘These products have reached the point of architectural obsolescence,’’ Palaniuk said in an e-mail. ‘‘It would be irresponsible to convey a false sense of security by extending public support’’ for old products.
But being deprived of security updates will leave computers using those operating systems vulnerable to viruses and other intruders, according to security experts. Although most consumers have recognized the vulnerability of the older operating systems and have upgraded, experts said, a number of businesses and school districts still run the older systems -- and may encounter problems.
According to a survey by technology research firm JupiterResearch, 13 percent of businesses still run Windows 98, while 6 percent run Windows ME.
Joe Wilcox, Microsoft analyst for New York-based JupiterResearch, said Microsoft has a legitimate argument for ending support because the technology is more than eight years old. Sunsetting technology, he said, is not uncommon. For example, Microsoft ended support for Windows 95 in December 2001, six years after it was introduced.
‘‘People drive old cars that aren’t safe, but is it the manufacturer’s fault you’re driving a car that’s 15 years old?’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a difficult situation for Microsoft. From the company’s perspective, it’s the best thing for all customers to be using something more secure.’’
Wilcox said Microsoft originally intended to end updates June 30, but pushed back the date to July 11 to allow for one more round of security updates. The updates are available on Microsoft’s Web site the second Tuesday of every month.
Last month, however, Microsoft decided against an update to fix a flaw in Windows 98 and Windows ME that could allow an intruder to commandeer a host computer. Repairing it would reengineer a significant part of the operating system and would not guarantee that applications could still run properly.
Alan Paller, director of research at the Bethesda, Md.-based SANS Institute, an information-security research company, said most consumers recognized the flaws in the older systems and ‘‘have already moved to XP or something else.’’
According to market statistics from information technology research firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., about 20 percent of consumers are still running Windows 98 or ME.
For those who are not running an upgraded system, security experts say there are a number of options to find alternate means of tech support and security.