Windows 98-- A step up, but modestly so
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1998. First
published in Canadian Computer Wholesaler, April 1998
Ready or not, here it comes.
Windows 98, that is.
When Microsoft announced that the might-have-been
Windows 4.0 was going
to carry the Windows 95 name, for many it seemed too reminiscent of the
US auto makers annual model changes. Some of the press promised
coverage of Windows 96 and Windows 97, products that never were.
Windows 95 didn?t stay still, however, and while the
stayed at the August 1995 release, bug fixes and new features being
available over the Web and to Original Equipment Manufacturers for
with new hardware.
Since late 1996, for example, OEMs have been using
2 (aka Win95b) which included the FAT32 and Internet Explorer. Even
was updated, to OEM-SR2.1, with Universal Serial Bus support, and
with Internet Explorer 4.0.
At the same time, Microsoft, was developing its next
behind the scenes, and eventually came public enough to promise a
for Windows 95. Early in 1998, they felt confident enough to offer
Beta 3 for wider distribution to media and customers wanting to get a
on working with the upcoming release. By the end of February, they sent
out the first of a series of potential Release Candidates to the 30,000
?official? beta test sites. Initial reports is that baring unforeseen
(either with the software itself, or with the US Justice Department),
98 seems pretty much ready.
And within days of the distribution of this issue, on
April 4th, they?ve
booked theaters in major North American cities for a presentation of
product. With all this activity, an official release sometime in May is
The fabled Microsoft hype machine, however, is running
at a much lower
pitch than in 1995. Partly, this is a response to the 1995 Windows
Despite spending an estimated $100 million, public response was only
A Rolling Stones jingle and an athlete climbing Toronto?s CN Tower
enough when the public was really focused on the Internet.
Windows 95 sales were good, but two and a half years
later, an estimated
70 million users are still working with 1992?s Win 3.1.
I?m writing this, running Win98 Beta 3? it feels
stable, fast, and ready
for the general public. But if Windows 95 was really Win 4.0, this
Win 5.0? think of it as Windows 4.1. A real set of improvement over Win
95, but still, a basically modest upgrade, more like the Windows 3.0 to
3.1 transition of the early 1990s than the more recent Win 3.1 to Win
While it installs happily over Win95 and Win 3.1
systems, many current
Win95 users really needn?t bother upgrading? purchasers of recent
who already have OSR-SR2 may already be using the upgraded FAT32 file
for large hard disk support. If they?ve downloaded Microsoft Internet
4.0, they have most of the user interface changes (and like me, may
turned off Active Desktop, and returned to the ?classic? Win 95
interface). Users of earlier versions of Win95 may want to upgrade if
added newer, large hard drives?just to get FAT32 along with the ability
to convert to that file system without destroying their current setup.
Windows 98 isn?t aimed at the existing user base,
however. It?s real
sales will be to purchasers of new hardware.
Along with FAT32 support for large hard drives, Win98
support for the whole collection of new hardware? all those
acronyms that have had often-disappointing sales over the past year.
? DVD drives, the next generation replacement for today?s CD-ROM
? AGP video overcoming the performance bottleneck on the PCI bus
? USB?Universal Serial Bus promising easy connection of cameras,
modems, speakers, and more
? Firewire (IEEE 1394) promising even higher performance than USB,
aiming at video cameras and more
? 1200 new drivers for modems, printers, and other hardware
Other improvements, in areas like boot-up speed, On
Now suspend mode,
and power management require new system-level support. Expect best
on systems with at least 22 megs of RAM?think of 32 megs as the new
for new systems.
There has been support for USB, DVD, and the like
prior to Win98, but
it has tended to be patchwork, after the fact add-ons, often with
performance. Having an operating system designed to support this
of hardware will make it easier to bundle these devices into new
and should help with after-market sales and upgrades.
Some corporate sites are thinking of skipping Win98;
to wait for its big sibling, NT 5.0, due late in 1998 or early 1999,
offering much the same hardware support and interface, along with NT?s
security, stability, and network features. NT 5.0 will be able to use
same new drivers as Win98, and as a result, will benefit from a wider
of hardware support than earlier NT versions. Unlike Win98, however, NT
5.0 systems will not be able to use existing Win95 drivers.
(This presents a dilemma for smaller hardware add-on
if they can only afford to develop one set of drivers, should they
a Win95-style driver package, usable by the tens of millions of
Win95 users as well as the new Win98 customers, or should they develop
a future-looking Win98 driver-set, allowing NT 5.0 users to become
while dropping support for the Win95 crowd? To a large extent, their
may depend on their target market?devices aimed at corporate customers
may want to ensure NT 5.0 support, while products aimed at the
market shouldn?t abandon the large Win95 customer-base just yet).
Like its predecessor Win95, however, Win98 continues
to offer better
backwards compatibility to DOS and Win 3.1 software, and better support
for game players. Continued support for Win95 drivers is also a plus.
a result, Win98 will be the operating system choice for most home and
Expect the upcoming release of Windows 98 to help
both of new, consumer-oriented computer systems, and of a wide range of