Just days before Microsoft was scheduled to discontinue the life support for some older Windows versions, the company announced that it will instead bring Windows Me, Windows 98, and Win98 Second Edition (Win98SE) into compliance with its current product-support life cycle and will extend support for these products until June 30, 2006. The unexpected move gives users of these products more time to plan their migrations to modern Windows versions and ensures that the company will issue relevant security patches for the products through this time period. According to various estimates, Win9x users still account for about 20 percent of all computer users.
   A statement the company issued yesterday said that the move is "part of Microsoft's ongoing effort to respond to customers' needs around the world" and that during the extended support period "Microsoft will continue to offer paid phone support and will continue to review any critical security issues and take appropriate steps. Extended Support for Windows 98 and Windows 98 SE had been scheduled to come to an end this coming Friday, January 16, while Windows Me support had been scheduled to end December 31, 2004."
   A Microsoft representative told me that the company made the decision to extend support for the Win9x family to accommodate the many users who still rely on these systems and to "communicate its product life cycle support guidelines in a handful of markets--particularly smaller and emerging markets" including Kazakhstan, the Ivory Coast, and Slovenia. The emphasis on emerging markets is particularly interesting, considering the number of such countries that are investigating open-source solutions, in part because of Microsoft's licensing costs. Microsoft's current life-cycle policy, instituted in October 2002, specifies support for 7 years, rather than 4 years that the original policy specified. For more information about Microsoft's product-support life cycle, visit the company's Web site.