Windows 98 and Window Millennium Edition (ME) have been continuing to receive updates from Microsoft via Windows Update, though Windows 2000, Windows XP (2002), Windows Server 2003 have all been released, and users encouraged to upgrade. More than 70 million people have resisted the call to upgrade and are still using the older releases of Windows.
No longer! After July 11, 2006, users of W98 and WME will have to fend for themselves, and Microsoft will no longer be releasing updates for those two operating systems. Microsoft had originally intended to "end-of-life" W98 and WME in January 2004, but then extended the dealing to allow users — primarily business users — time to upgrade older systems to newer releases of Windows. About two-thirds of the users are running the older Windows 98, with fewer than 25 million reportedly running the newer but less-well-received Windows ME.
Users running these older releases are encouraged to run one final Windows Update on or before July 11 to make sure that they get the latest patches there are, but I suspect that many — perhaps most — of these users don't even realize that Windows Update is still an option for them. They have a system that "just works," and either the hardware is ill-equipped to handle newer and more-demanding operating systems, or they cannot afford the upgrade cost, or they don't see the additional cost as worthwhile. These systems will run until they simply cannot run any more.
Many people — including this writer — see Windows 98 and Windows 2000 as the peak of Microsoft's operating system development, while Windows ME was awful. There are many excellent new features in WXP and W2003, but I find them uncompelling, and I'm disappointed by many of the other changes that come along with them. Fortunately, support for Windows 2000 is continuing, and perhaps some of the now-abandoned W98 and WME systems will upgrade that far.
Someday support for Windows 2000 will end, and many more users will face the choice these users are facing now. As Microsoft faces continuing delays and negative coverage of their forthcoming "Vista" operating system, and as users realize that most hardware shipping today will be inadequate to the task of running the upgrade well, Microsoft may face a far larger group of users unwilling or unable to upgrade from older systems.