OS updates 'optional'
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1999. First
published in Toronto Computes,
The Macintosh and Windows operating systems both stem
from visits made
by Apple?s Steve Jobs and Microsoft?s Bill Gates to the Xerox Parc
lab. There, they were able to see then-new technologies like the mouse
and now standard user interface features like resizeable windows,
With the same ancestry, it should be no surprise that
these two siblings
have been developing on parallel courses ever since, and in recent
have more and more come to resemble one another.
Now, even their timing of new releases seems to be
happening in sync.
Both Apple and Microsoft, for example, seem to be
planning late 1999
for major operating system releases?with both OS X and Windows 2000
to be big changes that will require many users to upgrade their
And both companies chose this Spring to release more
to their present mass-market operating systems.
Apple beat Microsoft in releasing OS 8.6. As the
number suggests, this
is a relatively minor change to OS 8.5, and is available as a free
or $30 CD (www.apple.com/macos)?but only for the approximately 3.6
Mac owners who are currently using the previous version. At least
if you run earlier Mac OS versions, you?ll need to upgrade first to
and then get the free upgrade to 8.6. (The new version should be
pre-installed, on new Macs by the time you read this).
The most talked-about new feature in OS 8.5 was the
engine?offering speedy hard drive searches combined with natural
searching a variety of Web sites. The upgrade lets you search the
of HTML pages and Adobe Acrobat PDF documents stored on your local
As well, it adds over 25 more Sherlock plug-ins (most available
adding the ability to search Amazon.com, CNN Interactive, Rolling
and more. (There?s talk that Apple would like to make Sherlock the
way to comparison-shop on the Web?with Apple getting a commission from
each resulting purchase).
Powerbook owners will be pleased to get improvements
of up to 37% in
their computers? battery life, along with the ability to use popular
phone models from Ericsson, Nokia, and more for wireless email and Web
DVD-RAM, USB and Firewire device support is improved.
The newest version
of Macintosh Runtime for Java is included (also available separately).
Enhancements to Apple?s Game Sprockets technology should make the Mac
appealing to game developers. Finally, hidden ?under the hood?
allow Apple to promise improved system stability.
As I write, Microsoft?s next-generation release of
Windows 98 has been
sent to manufacturing but has not yet officially hit the streets?it
be available as you read this.
Windows 98 Second Edition, like OS 8.6, is a
relatively minor upgrade
to the previous version?in this case, Windows 98. Like Apple?s upgrade,
it will be offered as an easy upgrade to current users?either a free
(lacking the new features) or a cheap CD. Unlike OS 8.6, Microsoft has
also announced plans to sell a full version that can be used by current
Win 3.1 or Win95 owners to upgrade to the latest version?for the same
as the existing Windows 98 version.
Like Apple?s new version, W98SE promises updates in
this case, Firewire, Device Bay, and cable and ADSL modems. And all the
bug and security fixes that have been made available to Win98 users via
the Windows Upgrade feature, along with other downloadable features
Internet Explorer 5 and the latest DirectX version.
The big new feature will be of most interest to users
with home and
small business networks?Internet Connection Sharing. Like proxy server
or gateway software available from a number of other companies, ICS
multiple users on a small network share a single Internet
a dial-up connection, or a networked connection via a cable or ADSL
When installed, networked machines can all connect to the Internet via
the IP address of a single, connected host-machine?forcing that machine
to dial-in, if required.
Bigger business networks will welcome improvements to
Networking, tightened encryption, improved high-speed ATM networking
and Wake-on-LAN, allowing the network to revive ?sleeping?
Both these upgrades promise nice enhancements, but
nothing vital for
most users. If you?re getting a new system, you should make sure you
the latest operating system version already installed. If you have need
for some of the new features?the enhancements to Sherlock or Internet
Sharing, for example?then be sure to get a copy. But if your current
is working as advertised, upgrading to OS 8.6 or Windows 98 Second
should be considered strictly optional.