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Q: I have been informed by a friend that Microsoft will no longer support Windows 98 after July and there will be no more security updates. Does this mean that I must upgrade to XP?
A. No, it does not. I believe that there is no real need to upgrade your operating system to XP, and with Vista due for release in late 2006 and early 2007 even XP will be superseded. Windows 98 has been around for eight years and is quite stable so I suggest that you go to the Microsoft site at http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/update/default.mspx and download all the critical updates. If you have not done this for a long time, this can take well over an hour to download and install as re-boot(s) may be required.
The main security programs that you must keep current are your anti-virus program and possibly your anti spyware software. These would still be necessary even after upgrading to XP. As your Windows 98 computer is probably quite old, and new, fast computers with Windows XP installed and an LCD monitor can be bought for less than $1000, I suggest that spending more than $100 for an XP upgrade is not warranted for a tiny improvement in a possible security patch. The operating system is not that important to the average user. Application programs, such as word processing, email, financial records management, image manipulations, games, etc are more important.
I am not convinced that it is worth the money to upgrade to XP from Windows 98/ME if you have a stable system.
The main advantage is the improvement in stability over Windows 9x. Windows XP was based on the industrial-strength NT operating system, which became Windows 2000. Some applications will run faster than on Windows 9x but only on a relatively new computer with adequate memory. Switching between users sharing the one computer is much easier. It supports an improved file system, NTFS. This has some advantages over FAT32 (File Allocation Table).
Remote Assistance is available where another user can log into your computer and take it over to diagnose and fix problems. Extensive multimedia support is built in but you do have free downloads in Windows 98 for most of this software.
Rollback capability and System Restore options are available. ClearType font-smoothing technology is built in. This will improve LCD displays as well as improve the CRT display but will slow down performance, although this will only be noticeable on computers with a speed of 2 GHz or less.
Some of the main disadvantages of upgrading to XP are that it needs a lot of resources and some of your existing programs and hardware will not run. You should have 256 MB of RAM but realistically 512 MB is required for acceptable performance. You must have more than 1 GB of free disk space for the upgrade but a realistic minimum should be 4 GB so that you still have some free space left on the hard disk after the upgrade.
You should have a moderately fast computer. At the very least a 700 MHz CPU but preferably faster.
In case of problems if you have to re-install Windows XP, many of your settings, as well as many programs, such as Microsoft Office, will have to be re-installed. With prior versions of Windows a re-installation preserved all your settings and data.
Windows XP is protected and must be registered with Microsoft otherwise it will stop working after 30 days. Therefore you cannot load the same CD onto two computers. Extensive subsequent hardware changes will force a re-registration.
Some old hardware such as flatbed scanners and printers using the parallel port interface that you are using may not be recognised or supported by Windows XP. Safe mode does not support a serial mouse, only a USB mouse, making de-bugging harder if you have a serial mouse.
NTFS partitions or drives cannot be read by Windows 9x if you have to boot on a Windows 9x floppy.
Finally you will have some learning to do as the interface and some system programs have moved or are called by a different name.