Windows 98 Is Dead! Long Live … A Thin XP?

With support for Windows 98 fading into the sunset, Microsoft has released a new version of Windows XP that effectively turns a creaky old Windows 98 machine into an XP thin client.

Originally dubbed Eiger, Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs is offered through Microsoft’s Software Assurance licensing and maintenance program.

Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs is not a full-featured OS, but a stripped down version of Windows XP Embedded for older systems that runs most applications remotely from a server. The only applications run locally are security and management tools, document viewers and the .NET framework.

This allows legacy systems to run what is effectively Windows XP and get all of the benefits of XP on their older systems, without requiring a complete upgrade to new hardware and software. It’s designed to work with the Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection client or third-party clients like Citrix ICA client.

While the strategy may keep customers with old hardware from considering Linux, Rob Enderle, principal analyst for The Enderle Group wonders why anyone would stick with Windows 98-era hardware now, considering it would be at least five to seven years old and hardware has become so cheap.

“[Old hardware] was never designed to be in the market this long,” he said. “It was designed when the expected life span for PCs was four years. I can see customers saving money initially, but in hindsight, with the support that hardware is going to need, it will be more expensive in the long run.”

Hardware vendors are apparently grumbling over Fundamentals for Legacy Systems, he said, because they would rather Microsoft provided customers with an incentive to upgrade their hardware to newer computers rather than keep old systems going.

No one was available from Microsoft for comment at press time. Many company executives are traveling back to headquarters following its Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston this week.

In the end, Fundamentals for Legacy Systems may prove very difficult to support from both an application and driver standpoint. “There’s a lot of concern that old hardware won’t be able to run this due to driver issues. You’ve got hardware drivers that may not even be available any more. And there’s no guarantee applications will work on a custom version of XP that’s been de-featured. So this thing could be a real bugger to support,” said Enderle.

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