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Windows 98 -- dead man walking

It wasn't as dramatic as a last-minute stay from the governor. Nonetheless, Windows 98 got a reprieve from execution this week.

Rather than end support for the desktop OS today, as scheduled, Microsoft will continue to offer paid support until the middle of 2006. That goes for Windows 98 SE and Windows ME, as well. By then, the only users who'll still be firing up those versions are the people who are still driving '72 Chevy Impalas today. Great car. Just a wee past its prime.

There won't be a whole lot for Microsoft to do to Windows 98 in the intervening years, however. One security expert told that the software giant has pretty much worked out all the bugs by now. And there's something to be said about a "mature" operating system: Virus writers seem to leave them alone. Most of the Windows-targeted viruses and worms last year -- and there were plenty of them -- seemed to just pass the Windows 9x generation by. So, when June 30, 2006, hits, raise a toast in tribute to a pretty damned good piece of software.

Back in patch mode

After a light month in December, Microsoft was back with the first of its monthly security alerts for 2004. Microsoft released three patches on Tuesday, one of them for a critical flaw in Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000, Microsoft's firewall product. The problem lies in a buffer overflow in ISA Server's H.323 filter, which enables multimedia communication, such as real-time audio over networks. Hackers could potentially exploit the flaw to run code in a system. Microsoft has offered a workaround until administrators are able to download the patch.

The same alert also announced patches for two other flaws. An Exchange Server 2003 vulnerability that could allow privilege escalation was rated "moderate." The other was an "important" flaw in Microsoft Data Access Components.

Absent from this alert was a fix for a reported Internet Explorer vulnerability that could allow a malicious user to spoof commercial Web sites to steal identities and funds. The flaw has been exploited in Britain, in conjunction with attempted online theft from at least one bank's customers. Microsoft says it is still investigating reports about the vulnerability.

Speaking of Internet Explorer, Microsoft this week lost a round in federal court involving its browser. A judge in Chicago rejected Microsoft's bid to overturn a $521 million judgment against the software maker in a patent-infringement case brought by Eolas Technologies Inc. Microsoft says it will appeal.

Services for Unix updated

On Thursday, Microsoft took the wraps off the newest version of its Services for Unix (SFU), a large collection of utilities that allows Unix applications to run on Windows. It's also friendly to other operating systems, such as Linux and Sun Microsystems' Solaris. The big news here is the cost. SFU version 3.5 is free. And free gets you through the door of the data center, where Microsoft's rival OSes have their strongest presence.

Open source software appears to have missed its shot at a greater presence in government IT systems, though. The Massachusetts state government, which boasts an $80 million IT budget, talked tough last fall about moving away from proprietary software, such as Microsoft's, in favor of open source alternatives. Now, state officials are backing off from that policy statement, saying that what they really meant is that they want to buy software solutions that are based on open standards. That's politics for you.


Sunset postponed for Windows 98 support

Critical Microsoft ISA patch issued

Anti-Microsoft verdict stands in browser patent case

MS tool lets Windows play nice with rivals

Mass. softens stance on proprietary software

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