Microsoft should release Windows 98 SE as Open Source

by Todd Ogasawara

I had an interesting situation the other day. My old 300MHz Celeron based IBM ThinkPad 240 notebook (a great little 2.2 lbs. sub-notebook) spends most of its time just lying around. I have newer notebooks in the home and office. But, none of them are in the size/weight class of the old ThinkPad. So, I still carry it for personal trips just to offload digital photos on the hard disk. The problem was I split it into 2GB and 4GB partitions and the 2GB partition for Windows had gotten full. So, I reformated it as a single 6GB partition. I gave some thought to installing Ubuntu Linux or some other interesting Linux distro but the 240 can't boot from a USB CD-ROM drive. I could have carved a small DOS partition to load a distro into and then boot from a Linux boot floppy. But, that seemed like a waste of the already small hard drive's space. Windows 2000 and Windows XP won't install from a simple DOS prompt (following a floppy disk DOS boot). Windows 98 SE, however, can be installed from the DOS prompt. And, I had an old external CD-RW drive that had MS-DOS drivers that could be loaded from a floppy. So, I decided to install Windows 98SE since it had some nice advantages compared to Windows 98 (1st edition). I installed Firefox 1.0pre and some other freeware and Open Source applications and the box is humming nicely again. The now ancient 300 MHz CPU with a mere 128MB RAM actually runs pretty responsively. Even my old 802.11b WiFi card runs fine on it since it has drivers for Windows 98 SE. And, my old Sony USB Spressa CD-RW drive runs on it too (though it doesn't have DOS drivers like the EXP drive I used to revive the 240).

I am aware of the ReactOS project. But, wouldn't it be nice to start with the relatively lightweight and stable Microsoft Windows 98 SE codebase to build a freely available Open Source OS that is compatible with lots and lots of drivers, applications, and utilities? Microsoft has already released WiX (Windows Installer XML), WTL (Windows Template Library), and FlexWiki under an Open Source compliant license. They sunset support for Windows 98 SE. It is not part of their revenue stream anymore (as far as I can tell). There are probably thousands of old but functional PCs that are too resource light to run Windows 2000, Windows XP, or even some current Linux distros. Why not Open Source Windows 98 SE to keep these old boxes productive with the thousands of old software and even new Open Source products that run on Windows 98 SE?

OK, I know this will never happen. But, wouldn't it be nice if it did?

I think old PCs can be made productive again using lightweight Linux distros and Windows 98 SE. What do you think?


2004-10-08 07:24:38
what are you willing to pay?
No doubt Microsoft will consider selling you the source to Windows 98SE and allow you to bring it into the open source domain if you're willing to pay them enough money.

So go ahead and launch a fundraiser on /.

2004-10-08 12:05:16
dusting off old ideas
My idea, which came up during the anti-trust trial, was for MS to auction off the W98 code to the highest bidder ($$ goes to uncle Sam). But then this code would be available for other developers, thereby giving MS some competition...

Definitely worth further discussion, though.

2004-10-08 16:39:35
who would want it?
It's an interesting notion, but come on- all coders who think they are tuff enough to dive into the mangled spaghetti that is Windows 98 code, raise your hands. :)
2004-10-09 06:59:03
I will tell you why they can't do it, though

In just a few words:


Internet Explorer

Active X


Think about it, let us start with Wine here. Releasing W98 into Open Source would inmediately make a lot of code they could use, or at least make hooks for it the customer wants to use. So, by releasing W98 into Open Source, they erased the last barrier to desktop Linux.

Now, IE, Active X, and Office. All these run good in W98 (as well as it is possible for anything to run on one of their OS, anyway). Thus, by releasing it into the Open Source, they would make all that gear instantly available of Open Sourcers. No, don't tell me they could arrange for it lisence wise, as it wouldn be Open Source. If they made it available on a non-Open Source license, open sources would just make plugins for their code which people could just install separatly and get instant compatibility.

2004-10-09 07:24:49
What do you mean you can't install Linux on your TP240?
I don't know about Gentoo, perhaps.

But I recomend you to try Mandrake. Download their ISO or buy their CDs, then burn a floppy from the floppy image on the CD, then boot from the floppy, then at last experience the long over due liberation from Microsoft.

There are other distros that this could work too. I only know Mandrake, SuSE, Debian and RedHat for sure could do this. I would recomend you to avoid RedHat tough (they used to be the best, but went down the tuves with with their 7.0). I don't have any experience with SuSE nor Debian. I do know other distros, but don't remenber if they can boot off a floppy.

By the way, Gentoo is based on Debian, so perhaps you could do the same thing on it. Just guessing, though.

2004-10-09 12:11:59
What do you mean you can't install Linux on your TP240?
I should clarify. I can't easily install Linux because of my particular configuration. When I bought the 240, I did not buy IBM's Ultradrive chasis. So, I don't have a native CD-ROM drive it recognizes. The only way to boot my 240 with CD-ROM support is to use an old EXP CD-RW drive with both a PCMCIA (what I use) and Parallel Port interface. With help from EXP years ago, I built a DOS boot disk that loads the EXP PCMCIA driver interface from DOS and gives me access to the CD drive from DOS. This lets me run Windows 98 SE setup (but not ME, 2000, or XP which doesn't run from DOS). If I create a Linux boot floppy from img files, it won't seen the EXP PCMCIA interface or the Sony Expressa USB CD-RW drive. I could have created a small DOS partition to load the Linux distro files into and perhaps have the boot floppy find and install that. I've tested current Fedora, Mandrake, SUSE, and Ubuntu (Debian) on low-end boxes (Pentium II with 128 to 256MB RAM). From what I have found, those distros with KDE or GNOME running start thrashing the hard drive with less than 256MB RAM (although the older Mandrake 8 ran fine on a 128MB Pentium II). I have my doubts about running any current distro with a GUI (except maybe icewm) on a Celeron (pre-PII) with 128MB RAM. I also wanted to avoid the time it would (might) take to get my old 802.11b WiFi card working on the 240 with a Linux distro. In the meantime, the IBM Thinkpad 240 is running pretty nicely with Windows 98 SE: Firefox, WiFi card, Sony USB CD-RW (it runs once Windows is installed and I can install the USB drivers) and other stuff.
2004-10-09 19:44:12
What do you mean you can't install Linux on your TP240?
You don't need a CD-drive.

Use Debian boot-floppys and install over the network. You probably have a (wireless) PCMCIA network card.

From what I have found, those distros with KDE or GNOME running start thrashing the hard drive with less than 256MB RAM

Then use XFCE, icecast, or another lightweight system.

2004-10-09 19:47:57
Linux on 300 MHz celeron IBM laptop
I don't know what you tried. I have installed Knoppix and Gentoo on 400 MHz Celeron Compaq with 128 MB with no problems. My Dell with 400 MHz P2 and 128 MB runs both Knoppix and Gentoo without problems.

Wipe the disc, boot Knoppix 3.6, "knoppix-install" and done.

2004-10-11 16:47:13
Consider FreeBSD
I also have an IBM 240. It's been a great computer, and I dread the day mine dies since there are few subnotebooks out there to replace it with.

Windows 2000 and Windows XP won't install from a simple DOS prompt (following a floppy disk DOS boot).
Win2000 actually can install from DOS, since that's how I installed it on my 240. I have the IBM Ultrabay CD ROM drive, but it's not recognized by the Win2000 installer. With the appropriate drivers, it is recognized in DOS though. So I boot into DOS, and use the CD ROM drive to copy a .zip of the Win2000 install tree to the c: drive, unzip it, then install from the hard disk (use the i386\winnt.exe program to start the text-mode installer).

My current configuration is:
* 2 gig partition with DOS + Win2000, installed as described above.
* 4 gig partition with FreeBSD. This was installed over the network, so only the floppy drive and network card were needed.

I haven't installed Linux on it for some time, but it did work the last time I tried. I think RedHat 7.2 was the last version I used, so it's been a while. I assume that all the well-known Linux distros also support a network install.

I have an old Linksys 10baseT card and a newer Netgear MA401 802.11b card. These both work under Windows and FreeBSD. I will warn that even more so than Linux, the list of supported wifi cards in FreeBSD is quite limited. Many manufacturers have gone to chipsets that aren't open, so no drivers exist. I had to hunt around to find a refurbished Netgear card that would work.

It all works great. Win2000 isn't bad on this machine, and FreeBSD screams.

2004-12-07 11:02:54
Booting ibm thinkpad 240 laptop
I have ibm thinkpad 240 laptop.
I got it from my friend.
The Problem is that I try to install Operating system (win 98), Never-the-less, I am having hard time installing operating sytem. The reason for this is that, I couldn't get this thinkpad 240 to read external cd rom drive using pcmcia card.
I boot the thinkpad from floppy drive(external drive), but never pass this stage.
How can I get this thinkpad 240 to read my external cd rom drive (using pc card).
I have "archos minicd" rom drive using pcmcia card.


2005-02-10 10:38:22
WOnt be done
If any version of windows from 95a or newer were to be released as open source especially 98 the wine community would immeditly be able to emulate the entire os environement from microsoft source code legally and of course this means total emulation not just api's.

Also patented file systems such as Fat12,16, and 32 although licensed for use in other products and used in products such as linux installers would be derailed and dissasembled causing microsoft to lose the patent a second time.

There are also a few other patented items and source required technologies that would be released that would reak havoc for microsoft's effort to keep things under wraps. With the ability to recompile a 9x kernel we can run windows on the xbox which is only 90% ibm compatible and only linux and ce have sucesfully been installed.

ALso Apple and other deevlopers of the mac os community would be able to more easilly integrate and persuade users to crossover.

Microsoft even 10 years from now wouldnt do this and in the time they would they wouldnt bother with it.

I hope you get the point that itll never happen in the timeframe wed find use of it.

2005-09-07 07:51:46
Would be an excellent use of already present resource
Perhaps unlikely to happen it would keep a lot of still usefull computers out of the landfill.
I have 1 266Mhz Wind. 98 Se that still functions well.
2005-11-11 09:16:42
open source or low cost or at least supported
When Microsoft last tried to withdraw support for W98 somebody told them - as they didn't seem to know - that at that time 26% of the PCs worldwide were still using it! If they don't know how to create a revenue stream out of that, then at least subcontract to somebody able to offer support at a cost appropriate to such end-users.
Even at not-for-profit this should be encouraged, as these machines will represent a weak link in the worldwide security chain until the last one drops out of use.
The withdrawal of support is imminent again. Think about it, Microsoft!
Rajesh Sinha
2006-01-30 00:38:54
I would like to have Windows 98 SE and willing to pay $21.00
My old MS windowds 98 SE cd is not readable now.
2006-02-19 23:23:33
I still wonder what the future for 98, 98SE and ME and the 9x code will be since Microsoft has recently extended the final support date from June 30, 2006 to July 11, 2006. This is the second Tuesday of the month so users will get a final round of security update(s).
2006-03-24 00:46:00
if they released the sourcecode of win98se, they probley wouldn't include anything interesting like internet explorer, or media player or anything like that, you'd just get the kernel, and maybe the gui, because everything else from win98se is being included in vista (hopefully wit a security update or 2, but i doubt it).

might aswell use linux and compile it yourself in that case.

Todd Ogasawara
2006-03-24 09:22:32
DarkMageZ: While it is unlikely (ok, let's call it "never gonna happen") that Microsoft would release 98/9SE as Open Source, releasing it without IE would not make it useless. I think Windows OS compatible projects like ReactOS and WINE have already shown this.
2006-03-26 18:41:38
I think that it would be nice. My old computer won't let me do anything without that damn windows 98 se cd rom, which I don't have anymore. This computer is about 10 years old.
2006-05-14 21:02:43
Well, I think that Windoze is disgusting, absolutely wretched. I love Linux. A good lightweight Linux distro would do great on a laptop like that.
Everett Eddy
2006-05-17 04:24:49
I agree. At the moment I am trying to decide which OS is best for a 1/2 gig HDD on a 1995 Dell laptop, that is currently running Win 98 2nd ed. I dont think it's BIOS will handle 2000 or XP and I am thinking of installing Ubuntu lite.
2006-06-10 08:55:00
Just open source it on and see if anyone bites it couldent hurt because the source evan if compiled corectley still cant have any of the newr apps installed on it because of support issues but i do think it would be nice and it would go well with the MS advantge crap they have going now... JAT