Looking Forward to Windows 95
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1995. First
published in Our Computer Player, June 1995
One of the things I've done for the past few years, is
working with Windows for new users, who also happen to be
teachers in the Vancouver school system.
New Windows users find it easy to be overwhelmed.
are those limitations imposed by DOS, especially 8 letter
filenames. No spaces.
Then there are problems created, it seems, by Windows'
flexibility. Multitasking is a mystery-- it's easy to open an
application, minimize it, and open it again. When you've got a
dozen or so Write icons lined up along the bottom of the screen,
it's hard to find which one you were actually working on. And
when you've maximized one window, where did the other
And while I try to train users to look in all the
click on everything, the solutions that Windows provides for
these sorts of problems are often non-discoverable. You'll never
discover Alt-Tab switching that way. (What? You never heard of
Alt-Tab switching? Go right to your computer, open several
applications and try it right now!) Or the Task Manager.
While Windows seems to be everywhere, much to the
of Macintosh or OS/2 users, and while it is certainly easier for
new users than a bare DOS prompt, it remains an awkwardly
tentative attempt. Witness the huge numbers of replacements for
Microsoft HAS been listening !
Microsoft, love it or loathe it, wields huge power to
standards. And they have been listening. Windows 95, the next
generation, shows the result of several years of usability
testing as well as looking and learning from what other
companies have been doing.
When it's finally put on sale, expected sometime in
general public will discover in Windows 95, an interface that
answers most of those new user problems, as well as many of the
problems that have plagued users of the antique PC hardware
Long file names? Sure the Mac has had 31-character
names for a
decade. Windows 95 adds names of up to 256 characters, while
keeping the standard FAT file system; you won't have to reformat
your hard drive or create special partitions to make use of this
enhancement. (Note however, that old applications will only see
an old-fashioned 8 + 3 DOS filename, and old utilities such as
disk optimizers can destroy long filenames). You can even use
long filenames from Win95's DOS command line. Try:
COPY "Here's a long file name.txt" a:
(of course, assuming you have a file with that name to
And Win 95 sports a TaskBar, by default along the
bottom of the
screen. It shows each open application-- no more losing windows
behind other windows, or as minimized icons. Click on an
application's name on the TaskBar, and it pops up to the front.
In the corner, you can have the time, and a tiny speaker icon to
control your sound card's volume. Print, use your modem, or play
an audio CD, and other tiny icons pop up, allowing control of
these devices. If you prefer, you can drag the TaskBar to some
other edge of the screen, or set it to disappear except when you
move your mouse to that screen-edge. When you minimize an
application, you will see it shrink down to the TaskBar, making
the connection between the opened window and the TaskBar button
much more apparent.
And in the corner of the TaskBar is a button, cleverly
"Start". The first time you start up Win95, you may notice
arrows pointing at it, shouting out "Click here to begin", just
like something from 'Alice in Wonderland'.
The Start Menu replaces Program Manager...
your current Program Manager groups and items into the Start
Menu, but with a few differences. There are buttons for
programs, allowing nested groups of menus... finally, the
default Accessories menu includes submenus such as Games,
Multimedia, and System Tools.
Another Start Menu item, Documents, brings up a list
of over a
dozen of your most recently accessed documents-- choose one to
reload it into its application for further work. The Settings
button lets you jump to the Control Panel or Printers. A good
Find button lets you search for forgotten filenames or
applications, on your computer or over the network. You can even
files for search for a fragment of text.
Use Win95's File Manager replacement, Explorer, to
these menus,,, you can cut, copy, and paste items in Win95's
Start Menu directory, with the results instantly appearing in
the TaskBar's Start Menu. Add frequently used documents to your
Start Menu groups, for easier access. Or right click on the
TaskBar for a properties dialogue, that also allows
customisation of the TaskBar and StartMenu.
In fact, right-clicking on almost anything brings up a
that includes a properties dialogue, allowing customisation. For
example, a right-click on any unused point on the desktop allows
customisation of the screen's appearance-- colours, wallpaper,
screen saver, even screen resolution and colour depth.
This right-clicking is one of several features on
first appeared in applications, sometimes from Microsoft, but
also from other company's-- Microsoft has tried to copy the best
ideas, regardless of original source (something made more
possible by the US court system finally putting an end to
Apple's 'look and feel' lawsuit against Microsoft).
Right-clicking to bring up properties menus may have
appeared in Borland's Quattro Pro spreadsheet (now owned by
Novell), but consistent use of this action has appeared in
applications by Lotus and Microsoft, among other companies. Now,
it's been promoted to an operating-system standard.
Similarly, Win95 uses 'Wizards', offering users
of stepping through otherwise complex actions. These were
pioneered by Microsoft in the original version of MS Publisher,
back in 1992, and have since spread to most of Microsoft's
applications, as well as those of their competitors. Win95
offers Wizards, starting with a SetUp Wizard, and including
other Wizards for adding new hardware, or troubleshooting device
In the much-maligned Program Manager, as far back as
version 3.0, program items ('icons') are not really the programs
they represented-- they simply point to those programs. Apple
took this idea much further with the Macintosh System 7's
aliases. OS/2 then cloned that model, with 'shadows'. Win95
takes it full-circle with 'shortcuts'. The icons in the Start
Menu are shortcuts, but you can also make shortcuts and drag
them to the desktop. Or copy them onto a document, and send it
to another user over the network... no matter where it is,
clicking on a shortcut opens the program or document that it
refers to. If that file has been moved or renamed, Win95 looks
for another file with similar size or creation date, then asks
if that's the right one to open. You can place shortcuts for
commonly used applications or documents right onto the desktop.
or even inside folders on the desktop, bypassing the Start Menu
for even easier access.
These are only a few of the interface enhancements...
add new fonts
by dragging them to a fonts folder, for example. The Recycle Bin, for
and undeleting files. Networking enhancements. Explorer, replacing File
Manager. Lots of changes, both big and small, adding up to a look and
that really is 'new and improved', yet is familiar enough to let users
get up to speed quickly.
(And if you really are uncomfortable with change, you
can replace the
new interface with yesterday's Program Manager and File Manager, and
keep the under-the-hood improvements).
Microsoft's done a good job with the user interface--
'borrowed' from the best, and produced a classy job that deals
with many of the things that have confused new users with
earlier versions. It's also easily customisable, meeting most of
the needs of more advanced users.
How about Hardware?
Microsoft claims that Win95 will run on any 386 or
processor, with 4 megs of ram or more, and enough hard drive
space. They're hoping that the release version will run on any
386DX or better at speeds comparable or better to those of Win
Personally, I'd suggest upgrading those 4 meg machines
least 8 megs. Win95 will run on 386SX machines, but will take a
performance hit, due to those processors' 16 bit external bus.
The same thing may happen to several models of non-Intel 486
chips, which also use 16-bit paths externally.
Some third party testing, with beta versions of Win95,
speedier video processing than Windows 3.1, but somewhat slower
hard drive accesses than Windows for Workgroups' 32Bit File
Win95 will take more hard drive space than past
versions of DOS
+ Windows. Count on at least 20 megs more drive space devoted to
the operating system.
It gets high marks, however, for supporting the vast
array of PC
hardware. Even in beta, it supports more printers, for example,
than Windows 3.x. Most popular sound cards, network cards,
CD-ROM's, scsi adapters, and video adapters are supported. And
in most cases, for unsupported hardware, if there are Win 3.1
drivers, they can be used. As a last resort, DOS drivers can
still be used, the same as previously, through entries in
boot-up CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT start-up files. Since there
are currently no scanner drivers or digitising pad drivers, some
users will be forced to use these techniques, even though these
'real mode drivers' will produce a performance drop compared to
protected mode Win95 equivalents.
Win95 supports DOS 6's DoubleSpace and DriveSpace disk
compression, and users can use DriveSpace to compress their hard
drives. Stacker, version 4 will also work, though currently,
only using Stac's real mode driver.
The biggest improvement is in helping with the PC's
of adding new hardware and resolving device conflicts.
Win95 has been written to work with the new PC Plug
standards... in a complete Plug and Play environment, users will
simply add new hardware, and the computer and its operating
system will recognise the change, and configure the new hardware
to fit in with the rest of the system.
For that to happen, however, users will need a Plug
operating system (such as Win95), and a Plug and Play BIOS on
their computer (only very recent machines are sporting this).
Some computers with Flash BIOS's may be upgradeable, and others
may permit replacement BIOS chips. As well, users will need to
be using Plug and Play compatible expansion cards and devices.
So for now, complete Plug and Play is not possible for most
But even for users with 'legacy' hardware and devices,
a big improvement. Control Panel includes a Device Manager,
which reports on all the hardware found on the machine, and
allows the user to find out about conflicts between devices. It
may still be necessary to open up the box and fiddle with
jumpers and switches to resolve the conflict-- but now users can
easily see what the problem is, and what should be done to fix
it. When new hardware is added, often Win95 will notice it at
start-up, and offer help installing the proper drivers and
settings. If not, Control Panel provides an "Add New Hardware"
wizard, which in many cases can even automatically recognise the
make and model of the new device.
Much of the delay in getting Win95 out the door has
been due to
Microsoft's desire to make it compatible with as much as
possible of the huge variety of hardware available for PCs. To a
large extent, they have succeeded; Win 95 does a good job both
in working with legacy devices and systems, and in preparing
users for a Plug and Play future.
How Will Your Software Run?
Besides making Win95 work with the bulk of existing
Microsoft faced a design goal of making it backwards compatible
with users current inventory of DOS and Windows software...
again a difficult goal, as much of it was designed to bypass the
operating system entirely to access the hardware. For security
reasons, Windows NT, for example, protects the system hardware
from software access-- as a result, many popular programs simply
won't work under that operating system.
Win95 is more flexible. To most DOS and Windows
looks like the past generation of DOS and Windows, with a few
improvements. Windows mouse, sound, networking, and CD-ROM
drivers, for example, support DOS programs as well-- many users
will be able to remove these drivers from their DOS start-up
To achieve this compatibility, however, Microsoft was
make some unpopular design decisions. Win95 does not currently
support OS/2 or Windows NT's advanced file systems, only the DOS
FAT system. And as is currently true with Win 3.x, the past
generation 16-bit Windows applications will only multitask in a
single co-operative session.
That means that, as is the case with Windows 3.1, a
misbehaving application can slow down other applications. (OS/2
and Windows NT give the option to run each 16-bit Windows
application in a separate, protected session, where it doesn't
affect other applications. Advocates of those operating systems
don't often point out, however, that this is not done by
default, and takes quite a bit more system resources).
DOS applications, and newer, 32-bit Windows
applications run in
separate, peremptorily multitasked sessions, where they are
protected from one another.
A small minority of current Windows applications won't
under Win95. This includes file and disk utilities that aren't
compatible with the new long filenames. Win95 includes backup
and defragmentation utilities, but doesn't currently include any
virus protection. As well, replacement shells for Windows 3,
such as the popular Norton and PC Tools Desktops, will not work
with the new version.
Only a few other Windows applications run into
reports to the contrary, for example, ClarisWorks ver 3 runs
fine under Win95. The problem is that its install program fails
to run under the new operating system... a previously-installed
copy will run without any problems.
As suggested, most DOS applications, including games,
without blinking an eye, and will find more free DOS memory
because they will be able to use the Windows versions of device
drivers. A right-click on the DOS program's icon in Explorer
allows the user to customise settings-- no more obscure Pifedit
sessions. In this way, a custom start-up batch file can be set
for each DOS program. However, this falls short of the level of
customisation permitted by OS/2.
A few DOS programs, most often games, however, will
properly. In that case, Windows will suggest that they be run in
'MS-DOS Mode'. In this case, the system reboots, giving nearly
full control to the application. Since Win95 isn't running
(except for a tiny fragment used to reboot to Win95), the
Windows device drivers aren't present. Current DOS drivers can
be set to load for these programs, so that mouse, CD-ROM, or
sound card can still be used. While it's a bit of a pain, it's
much more elegant than the boot floppies often required by these
same games and applications today.
Win95 doesn't support a sophisticated Boot Manager,
which is an
option included with Windows NT or OS/2. However, if users
choose to install it into a fresh directory, their present
versions of DOS and Windows are preserved... then, pressing F4
at bootup sends them directly to the old DOS bootup. F8 gives a
menu of options, including booting to the former DOS. Win95 can
also be installed onto a system that already has OS/2 or Windows
NT installed... on one system, with a little fussing, I had DOS
6.2 + Windows for Workgroups, OS/2 Warp, and Windows 95 all
co-existing on a single drive partition, and was able to boot to
the system of my choice. OS/2 does not currently support Win95,
however, and cannot use it to run Windows programs. Applications
written for Win95 or Windows NT cannot be run under any current
version of OS/2.
Should You Upgrade?
When it's finally released, Win95 will be the most
(and most widely hyped) software ever-- 40,000 beta testers. As
well, in March, Microsoft distributed 400,000 preview copies to
users willing to pay $32 US for an unfinished version in order
to a get a head start on the transition.
Buyers of many brands of new computers may not get a
Win95 will be preinstalled on millions of machines sold over the
Assuming Win95 meets its target date of August, it is
to sell for 'under $100 (US)'. At that point, users will get to
decide to upgrade or not.
Some users will choose not to upgrade. They may cite
-- their hardware doesn't meet the minimum
requirements, or they
don't have enough free hard drive space.
-- they've customised their setup with Windows 3.1,
using a replacement shell, and don't want to change.
-- they're part of a large organisation, and aren't
invest the money or the training to change over a large number
-- they're uneasy about version 1.0 of any software,
prefer to let other users find the potential problems.
-- they're using the operating system and applications
shipped with their system, and don't see any reason to change
the way they work.
-- they're uncomfortable with the power that Microsoft
the entire computing industry, and prefer to look around for
All of these are open to debate. I'd predict that on
hand, once released, Windows 95 will be the fastest selling
software product ever, and simultaneously, many millions of
users will continue to work with older versions, for the
After all, even with an estimated 60 million Windows
there remain 80 million or so computers running DOS without
Windows. The bulk of these are older computers which will remain
usable and useful for years to come. Similarly, tens of millions
of computers will continue to run older versions of Windows for
Software companies, however, have discovered that the
DOS-only users don't purchase much new software-- and so there's
been little new software developed for that market (yes, I know,
it's a chicken-and-egg sort of situation). Similarly, many
companies are working to get new versions of software to take
advantage of Win95's enhancements. Within a fairly short time,
people who have chosen to stick with earlier generations of
Windows will find themselves unable to run new software or even
to upgrade the programs they're currently using.
There's been a lack of exciting new software for a
companies have been awaiting the release of Win95... that
product's hoped for late-summer release should trigger an
explosion of new products.
Ought to keep me busy for a while.