A Tale of Two Operating Systems
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1998. First
published in Computer Player, April 1998.
?It was the best of times; it was the worst of times??
Like in the famous
novel by Charles Dickens, change is in the air. For some computer
that?s exciting. For others, a time of foreboding.
Okay. Maybe I exaggerate. It?s not like the
Heads will not roll.
Still, when the Windows 3.1 upgrade was given the name
it suggested annual model changes, like in the auto industry. But there
was no Windows 96. No Windows 97. Finally, though, we?ve been promised
a Windows 98? perhaps as early as May 1st. As with the coming of
signs are everywhere.
The Win98 books are being readied at the publishers,
aiming for May
publication dates. Microsoft Press has already released a Windows 98
Kit?Beta Version, (US$55.99)complete with beta version on CD, for those
who just have to have a copy before Microsoft deems it ready for
Nevertheless, all indications are that Windows 98 will
not be subject
to the major hype that attended the August 24 1995 release of its
No Rolling Stones jingle, no daredevils scaling Toronto?s CD Tower. No
midnight lineups outside software stores.
And much less of a dramatic change from Windows 95
than that product
was from Win 3.11.
Windows 98 is much more modest, and to a large extent
is simply gathering
together in a single package pieces that were already available:
? Fat32 file system, allowing use of large hard
drives, which has been
part of Win95B since October 1996, though not officially included with
the retail upgrade package. Finally with a utility to convert existing
Fat16 drives without destroying the data
? Active Desktop and Internet Explorer 4, freely available from the
? DirectX 5.0, which again is freely downloadable, and included with
many newer games
In addition, there?s support for hardware devices that
since 1995?DVD, Universal Serial Bus, Accelerated Graphics Port,
better power management for notebook users.
Finally, a few new features. Multiple monitor support
(yes, like the
Mac OS since 1988). Support for TV based on features already available
on ATI?s All-in-Wonder-series video cards.
Should you hurry to get it?
Active Desktop, IE 4, and DirectX 5 are available for
free if you want/need
them (personally, I don?t care for the Active Desktop interface
though I know others who like them).
If you?re purchasing a new computer to take advantage
of the new-generation
hardware, you?ll most likely be getting Win98 as part of the package
Win98 looks like the end of the Win9x line of
operating systems? making
it the last step in an evolution that started with DOS. Microsoft is
to build future models based on the NT core?with separate lines for big
business and small business/consumer users. Prior to that is the next
release, NT 5.0, due late this year or early next.
Meanwhile, there?s action over on the Mac side of the
force as well.
Last summer brought us the release of OS 8.0. While a
many ways, it seemed to me like a catch-up-to-Win95 release.
It?s easy to focus on what Microsoft?s products have
borrowed from the
Mac, but OS 8.0 brought Mac users popup context menus and sticky
menus, all long-time Windows features. Programs minimized to
tabs lined up on the bottom of the screen, look suspiciously similar to
the Win95 Taskbar. And while Windows, has offered a 3D ?chiseled steel?
look, the always classier and more expensive Mac now sports a 3D
Winter brought Mac users OS 8.1? some bug-fixes, and a
new file system:
HFS+. With less cluster waste and support for bigger drives, it meets
the same needs as Microsoft?s Fat32. And it comes with the same catches
as the Win95B version of Fat32? an installation process that destroys
existing data, resulting in a hard drive that can?t be read if you boot
to an earlier operating system version. (And like Win95B users, who
purchase a third party utility?Partition Magic to non-destructively
file systems, Mac users can look for Alsoft PlusMaker to do Apple one
Unlike Microsoft, who discouraged upgrading from Win95
to Win95B, Apple
has made the upgrade from OS 8.0 to OS 8.1 freely available via the Net
or low-cost CD.
But just as Microsoft is offering NT as the
Apple is promising Rhapsody?the upcoming merger of the Mac look and
with power and performance brought over from Steve Jobs? NeXT. But like
NT, not being touted for the home/small business users, Apple also
two parallel operating system families.
Some of us feel like we just have to have the
latest?and hope it will
automatically be the greatest. Most of us, however, should take our
resist temptation and hype, and upgrade only when there?s something