Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bye bye Windows 98

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.


IvanC said...

This is one big reason why open source and free software (FSF) is so much more attractive. You can upgrade your software and OS for free at your own pace. Support is always freely available via volunteer Internet community support group. You said people don’t need the cutting edge technology all the time but open source and free software provide the cutting edge technology at zero cost. Would you not try it?

I have been running a Pentium 3 machine with the latest Linux distribution and I dare say it is faster than a windows 98 version with the same Hardware specification.

Anonymous said...

Since you describe yourself as a Linux "beginner" your naievty is understandable.

FSF software is just as bad. The point Tim was talking about was the average user wanting to use a computer for a web browser and some other basic apps. Do you seriously think Windows 98-era hardware can run a modern Linux distribution with all the (KDE/GNOME) GUI bloat? Do you seriously think it could run a Mozilla based browser at a decent speed?

The fact is, and I say this as a unashamed geek who loves the unix command line, Windows is a much better desktop operating system than any Linux system.

And I have recently brought an old Dell laptop back into action. It is a pre-Windows 98 era machine (has a Windows 95 compatibility logo on it) - a Pentium (1) MMX 233 Mhz, with 128 MB of RAM. Admittedly this was pretty 'top-end' at the time. Nevertheless what operating system did it run fastest - Linux? Hell no! I found that nothing was faster than Windows 2000. As a basic machine for word processing, web browsing and email it's actually quite usable. Linux ran like a dog and was unusable even with just one app (Firefox) open.

IvanC said...

I understand what Mustafa is saying and yes I should not give too high expectation to people.

Yes the latest distribution of Linux is hardly going get a lot of performances out of windows 98's era Linux but there is some specialised distro. E.g. Damn Small Linux may able to run on these kind of machine.

I don't want to compare LINUX vs Windows, simply because they have their owns pro's and con's.

The very point I want to make with my comments are

1.People should not switch hardware completely. If you think your machine is old, think about switch software and OS instead.

2.There are many attractive alternatives to Microsoft which are freely available with no Licence fee attach to it.

3.People should not be put off about the rumour that LINUX is difficult to use and install. I wouldn’t say it is as easy as windows but I will not use difficult to describe LINUX.

4. People who support FSF do have a good community spirit and willing to help. In general they do believe technology is free for all and not for the selected few who can pay Licence fee. These people need our encouraging and support. We should at least try their products..

Anyway yes… I am a naïve computer LINUX geeks…nothing to be ashamed of and yes I have an army of volunteer expert to help me…


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