Should software come with a lifetime support guarantee?

We mentioned earlier that Microsoft was ending support for the Windows 98 operating system. Despite the fact that the OS is over eight years old - absolutely decrepit in terms of the typical software lifespan - more than a few people were more than a little upset about its official "end of life." Apparently there are still plenty of computer users who are content to keep on using it, at least until the hardware on which it's installed finally dies.

Some folks continue to run the older operating system, especially in the business world, because they have proprietary applications that are tied to it and won't run properly or at all on a more modern OS. Others can't afford the upgrade for dozens or hundreds of machines because it would require substantial costs to upgrade the hardware to meet minimum system requirements for a newer OS. Support for Windows Me also ended on July 11, but it was never as popular as Windows 98 and there seem to be few businesses running it.

"What's the big deal anyway?" You might be wondering. Just because Microsoft is dropping support doesn't mean you can't keep on running the old operating system if you want. That's true - but "no support" means no new security patches, and that could pose problems not only for the remaining Internet- connected Windows 98 users themselves but also for the rest of the 'Net, since these unpatched computers could enable attacks to spread across the network.

In a perfect world, then, everyone would upgrade to a more stable, more secure, still-supported operating system. Unfortunately, we don't live in one of those. Patches or no patches, some people will keep using Windows 98 and Me, and many of those will connect to the Internet. According to a recent article from ZDNet Australia, there are estimated to be 50 to 70 million systems out there that are currently running Windows 9x operating systems (95, 98 and Me). This includes many schools and some government agencies.

Many folks believe Microsoft (and other software makers) should continue to release security updates for all of their products as long as some customers choose to use them. Some have even gone so far as to suggest laws requiring such support. Software vendors argue that all products eventually become obsolete and it's not the manufacturer's responsibility to support them in perpetuity. For example, automobile makers weren't expected to provide free upgrades to old models of their vehicles to install safety features such as airbags that come with the new models, just because some people drive old cars.

What do you think? Should software vendors provide lifetime support for their products? If so, should that be mandated by the government or should it be a customer-driven business decision? Do you believe unpatched systems pose a real risk to the Internet as a whole? Are you still running old "legacy" operating systems at home or work? If so, why haven't you upgraded?