Future of Windows 98 in doubt

Few people outside of Microsoft would try to argue that Windows 95 and Internet Explorer are "integrated," but with Windows 98, it's a different story. The development of Windows 98 paralleled, in many ways, the development of IE 4.0, and the two products appear to be more integrated than the Windows 95-IE pairing.

But there's a problem: Judge Jackson's ruling on Friday clearly mentions Windows 95 and "any successor versions thereof." This would include Windows 98, which is nearing its final beta. Windows 98 is expected in mid-1998. Also affected: Windows 95 OSR-2.5, which is simply a newer version of Windows 95 with Internet Explorer 4.0 bundled in. Ironically, Microsoft agreed to make OSR-2.5 when OEMs complained about having to install Windows 95 and IE 4.0 separately.

So what will happen to Windows 98? That's unclear at this point but one obvious solution is for Microsoft to offer two versions, one with IE 4.0 and one without. How quickly Microsoft can release such a beast will be testimony to the actual "integration" between the two products: if it comes together quickly, they were never integrated to begin with.

Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray spoke Friday about Windows 98 and said it would ship "on schedule" between April and June of next year regardless of the judge's ruling.

"It appears that, if the judge's ruling is still in effect at that time, the ruling may also require Microsoft to allow OEMs the option of shipping a version of Windows 98 without all the IE 3.0 and 4.0 files."

So, time will tell. To the outside world, Microsoft is showing a happy face and proceeding according to plans. Internally, however, who can say? Perhaps this very day the coding wizards at Microsoft are working on a version of Windows 98 that can exist without Internet Explorer 4.0

You know, just in case

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