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Microsoft to charge for Windows 98 bug fixes

Windows 98 users planning on getting bug fixes and other features for free should prepare to shell out some bucks, sources say.

Windows 98 users planning on getting bug fixes and new features that Microsoft has been preparing for its consumer operating system had better be ready to shell out some bucks.

Microsoft is working on another version of Windows 98 Second Edition, adding technology and eliminating bugs that appeared in the maiden release. Called StepUp, the latest SE package is designed for consumers who are already using Windows 98, according to beta testers.

But users will have to pay for Second Edition StepUp, whereas Microsoft had previously indicated that the upgrade would come for free.

Microsoft is expected to offer the Second Edition SetUp for an estimated retail price of $89, the same as other Second Edition upgrades, according to a spokeswoman from Waggoner Edstrom, Microsoft's PR firm. Microsoft will sell the StepUp CD on its Web site, but will not post the bug fixes and other technologies for free downloads, she said.

Put another way, it will cost as much to upgrade from the current version of Windows 98 to the fixed version of Windows 98 as it will to go from Windows 95 to Windows 98.

To date, Microsoft has discussed coming out with retail upgrade packages that will take users from Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 to Windows 98, as well as a new full version of Windows 98. Windows 98 Second Edition is due in the fall. (See related story)

News of the charge to go from Windows 98 to Windows 98 Second Edition most likely will not sit well with users. In many cases, bug fixes are posted for free by software companies.

"If I'm right in assuming they will charge for the release, a lot of people are not going to be too happy, since Windows 98 SP 1 was supposed to be freely available on Windows Update," said Nate Mook, Webmaster for the site BetaNews.

Additionally, some of the new features due with the new version of Windows 98, such as Internet Explorer 5.0, will be free elsewhere.

A letter that went out today from Microsoft to beta testers read as follows:

"The next major release of the Windows 98 Second Edition Beta is right around the corner and we need some information from our testers. This release will be shipped as the Full and Upgrade versions, but one more version is being added specifically for those upgrading from Windows 98 Gold (retail). We are looking for testers planning this type of upgrade to test this special version, called the StepUp version, or Windows 98 Second Edition."

Windows 98 Setup has grown from a collection of bug fixes and application updates to include Internet Explorer 5 and other features. The name has been changed a number of times as well.

In October, Microsoft confirmed that it was working on a "service pack," or improved version, of Windows 98 to clean up various problems users were experiencing when trying to install Windows 98 on older systems. The service pack, called SP1, would also include better driver support, more support for the Universal Serial Bus, the latest versions of IE, and more.

Along the way, Microsoft split up testing of SP 1 into two separate groups. One group of beta testers tested the version of the OS that would be sent to computer vendors. Microsoft called this version the Original Service Release, or OSR. Another group tested the version that was slated to be sold as an upgrade through computer resellers.

Toward January, the two testing efforts were consolidated to one effort. During this time, features such as Internet Connection Sharing were added.

Last month, OSR was renamed, this time as Windows 98 SE, or Windows 98 Second Edition.