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Windows 98 support shifts to CD

The aging operating system will be supported by Microsoft only for another week. After that, users will have to rely on a free CD containing hints and tips.

When Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows 98 support next Friday, it will offer a free CD designed to help users "make the most" of the aging operating system, without any further assistance from the software giant.

Six years after its launch, Windows 98 is still used by about a fourth of Web surfers. Microsoft announced last year that it would stop supporting Windows 98 on Jan. 15, meaning that millions of users will soon be left exposed when new exploits and vulnerabilities are discovered.

Lars Ahlgren, senior marketing manager at Microsoft, told ZDNet UK that the CD, which the software giant created with Future Publishing, will provide hints and tips, technical content and exclusive Knowledge Base articles. The content will also be published on Microsoft's support Web sites.

"We have made an arrangement with Future Publishing so we get Windows 98 content that is not just technical; it is also about how to get more from your Windows 98 machine. For those who have difficulties getting on the Web or want the content on a CD, we will ship them the CD for free, if they call us or register on the Web," Ahlgren said.

Ahlgren also acknowledged that Microsoft is hoping to keep Windows 98 users' expectations low, so that if there is a serious security breach the company decides to patch, they will be pleasantly surprised.

"It remains to be seen," whether there will be further updates, he said, noting that "we want to set expectations and overdeliver rather than underdeliver."

Users who need to do a clean installation of Windows 98 will, for the moment, still be able to connect with the Windows Update service in order to install the most recent patches, but the future of this service is far from clear: "We have not yet made a decision when we are going to remove Windows update. We realize there is a huge install base out there, so we will try to be as open and loud as possible with our decision," Ahlgren said.

Ahlgren pointed out that certain patches released in the future could be generic and work on all Windows operating systems, including Windows 98. In that case, an update would be possible: "If the patch is a generic Windows patch that applies to Windows 98, it will be available," he said.

Before Microsoft does remove the live update function for Windows 98, users will be able to download and burn the patches onto a CD, in case they are needed at a later date.

Last month, Microsoft began testing a security CD designed to enable users of older versions of Windows, with low-bandwidth connections, to update their systems.

Microsoft said the Windows 98 support CD and the new content on its support Web sites should be available Jan. 15.

Munir Kodatia of ZDNet UK reported from London.