Today Microsoft is formally shutting support for Windows 98. And so the march of computer technology goes on.
But am I the only one who wonders if eight years is too limited a lifespan for a product? I have always been struck by the way the computer industry frequently operates at one speed when the market is definitely two speed. An estimated seventy million are still using Windows 98 and it's not as easy for all to upgrade as some make out.
Broadly the computing industry and one section of the market operate on the principle that equipment and software get obsolete quite quickly and need to be upgraded every few years. That's all well and true but it overlooks the fact that many consumers do not operate on such a basis.
Many will buy an appliance and keep using it until it stops working - and indeed tend to heavily resent it when they feel they "have" to either buy additional equipment or replace the entire thing just to do what they've been currently doing. A lot of equipment lasts for years with careful care and attention - looking round my room my television is significantly older than Windows 98, so is the VCR (although nowadays it mainly serves as a glorified SCART adaptor) and the printer is at least the same age. All still work, all do everything they did when they were purchased and none have ever required an upgrade to just stand still. (Annoyingly though my Primax scanner is not compatible with Windows XP - so much for back compatibility and progress.) How many people treat their computers like this? I know some who still have the home PCs they purchased a decade ago.
It's easy to dismiss those who don't upgrade as dinosaurs. But many don't for one reason or another, the main one frequently being cost as most of the PCs that came out with Windows 98 don't have the hardware and memory requirements for later versions of the program. Should the industry force them into perpetual upgrades?
A related point on this that I do find a frequent irritant is the poor design of many websites when it comes older browsers. Because a lot of office and institution PCs do not allow the user to install software the browsers frequently get significantly out of date. At the university I invariably find web browsing a nightmare because of browsers that neither have Flash Macromedia on them nor allow me to install it. Similarly there a good number of fonts in use on the web that not all old PCs can actually read. Now this isn't as if it's a necessary evil as many websites have been designed to actually ask the browser first whether it has the plug in and if not just display the site anyway. But too many others just crash the browser. Some of the worst offenders are sites targeted at the education community - they should either do better research about their target audience's facilities or get a control on their website designers.
Is there a solution to this? I'd hope so, but at the moment it seems as though the computer industry just keeps sprinting on, leaving many behind in its wake.