February 02, 2004

The Wizard of OS: Should You Upgrade?

Microsoft Windows 9x (95, 98, ME, and their sub-versions) have been around for a long time. Probably the most successful, and relatively stable of the bunch was Windows 98 Second Edition. In business and home use, it is arguably the best of the 9x series. However, it's over five years old, and in computer doggie years, that makes it fairly ancient. Add to the fact that Microsoft has already begun phasing out support for Windows 98, and it raises some tough questions.

However, should you upgrade all of your computers to Windows XP? The answer to this loaded question is the typical lawyer's response: It depends.

An Operating System (OS) upgrade cannot be considered in a vacuum. There are practical hardware requirements, software application considerations, and the fact that OS upgrades often are the tail that wags the IT budget dog. If you upgrade an OS to one that is several generations newer, oftentimes it will cost much more than the OS upgrade to get new hardware capable of running it, plus obtaining new programs, peripherals, and their associated drivers that will work with the new OS.

Here to help answer that question are two good TechRepublic articles which nicely illustrate both sides of the coin:

- Top Five Reasons to Leave Windows 9x Behind

- Do More With Less: Reasons Why Windows 98 is Still a Good Choice

For business use, I still lean towards Windows XP upgrades because of the enhanced stability, and the fact that you are buying into longer overall support -- Windows XP won't be replaced until Longhorn comes out in 2006, so there's virtually no chance Microsoft is going to phase out support for Windows XP any time soon. This also means that software vendors will need to support it for some time yet. Also, if you are considering doing any type of networking between two or more computers, whether it's wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi, I strongly recommend paying the extra money for Windows XP Professional over the Home edition. The difference is usually less than $100 and the enhanced networking support will more than pay itself back in saved time.

However, if you have critical legacy software or hardware that you must continue to use for whatever reason, then an XP upgrade may generate some serious challenges that requires savvy planning and implementation talent. If your application program versions are mostly up-to-date, then an XP upgrade may not be too painful overall. Also, if you're still running Windows NT, run, don't walk, to upgrade to Windows XP if you have sufficient hardware. NT's architecture was fairly unique and clunky, and it lacks support for any USB device, so many software and hardware developers have already dropped it from their supported OS list. If you're running Windows 2000, it's still a good operating system that has much in common with Windows XP under the hood, and will likely to be supported for a while yet.

Windows 98 SE is still a good home and SOHO computer OS for people with older hardware. Let's face it, if most of your tasks are related to running Corel WordPerfect or Microsoft Office coupled with Internet access (most notably, web surfing and e-mail), some light printing and graphical tasks, and some miscellaneous fun, then you don't need a lot of CPU power to get by for a little while longer. Windows XP will choke on some slower processors with less memory installed.

The main concern I have at this time is that if you need to buy programs that are updated annually, you may get a surprise to find that Windows 98 was quietly and suddenly dropped from its supported list. Windows 95 and even NT have already dropped off a lot of software vendors lists. So Windows 98 is definitely next, despite its huge popularity. However, as good as Windows 98 was, in terms of stability, it can't hold a candle to Windows XP. In Win98, when one program crashes, it can still take your entire computing session and unsaved work with it.

Lest one wonders why on earth I would be discussing Windows 98 when most new computers have been shipping with either Windows 2000 or XP for several years now: I still know a lot of people who run Windows 98 on their home PC, as well as solo and small firm practitioners who are just trying to get by with what they have. Hopefully, this post will help them determine where they want to go both today and tomorrow.

Topic(s):   Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard