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Microsoft clarifies bug fix issue

Bug fixes for Windows 98 will be free, but consumers will have to buy a CD to get features such as better support for advanced hardware features, Microsoft says.

Bug fixes for Windows 98 will be free, but consumers will have to buy a CD to get features such as better support for advanced hardware features and better support for home networking, Microsoft officials have said, a clarification that will likely quell complaints from some users.

"Users don't have to pay for bug fixes," said Mike Nichols, Windows product manager, adding that the long-awaited bug patches to Windows 98 will be posted on the company Web site within the first half of 1999.

And, a few months later, Microsoft will start selling a CD on its site that will essentially allow users to upgrade from the current version of Windows 98 to a new version that includes technologies such as advanced support for Universal Serial Bus, a copy of Internet Explorer 5.0, and a technology called Internet Connection Sharing, which eases the process of home networking. The CD will also contain the bug fixes.

The price of the CD has not been set, but Nichols said he didn't imagine it selling for more than $30.

Confusion over whether or not Windows 98 users would have to pay for a collection of bug fixes to the operating system has grown out of the history of the "Service Pack," a collection of bug fixes, for Windows 98. Last year, Microsoft said it would release an SP1, or service pack one, for the operating system. The service pack began to incorporate new technologies such as Internet Connection Sharing.

In March, Bill Gates said future updates to Windows 98 would be called Windows 98 Second Edition. Due in the fall, Windows 98 Second Edition, would become the version of Windows 98 loaded onto computers and sold in stores.

Yesterday, Windows 98 beta testers revealed that Microsoft was coming out with a new, similar product for Windows 98 users. Ostensibly code-named StepUp, the new product will include the bug fixes and new technologies.

When StepUp was announced yesterday, it appeared to some testers that Microsoft was going to charge for the package and not give out the bug fixes for free, as the company historically has done. A public relations expert on behalf of Microsoft said that the company was going to sell the Windows 98 upgrade in stores and on the company site for the same price as a Windows 95 upgrade package. The features, she added, would not be posted for free on the Web site.

Nichols said the PR representative was incorrect. Instead, Microsoft will post the collection of bug fixes which he called SP1, on its site, and only charge for the more expansive CD, which consists of a combination of the new technology and SP1.

Beta testers and observers, however, have generally considered the incorporation of these technologies as an evolutionary part of SP1. In other words, they weren't necessarily looking for two Windows 98-to-Windows 98 upgrade modules coming out, just one.

Service Pack confusion
Just what the SP1 will contain has added to the confusion. Microsoft says SP1 will not contain any new features. But in October and in December, Microsoft spokespeople said that SP1 would come out toward the end of Q1 and that it would contain support for modular Device Bay hardware, additional support for modem drivers, increased support for USB modems, WebTV for Windows update, and additional support for local area networks, and other features part of the CD upgrade but not now apparently part of the download package of bug fixes.

Beta testers in January reiterated the same and included Internet Connection Sharing as part of SP1.

The naming schemes, and whether or not the bug fixes were separate from the technology upgrades, "has definitely not been clear, even to testers," said Nate Mook, Webmaster at BetaNews, in an email. "The SP1 name left when the beta was closed, however it has now re-risen with the announcement of the bug fix pack which will be posted for free."