for Windows 95-- has Microsoft bitten off more than it can process?
by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #287 April 25, 1995 High Tech Office column
classic absurdist play, two characters spend all their time alongside
a road, waiting for Godot. He's late, and it's not clear what will
happen when (or is it if?) he arrives. A large proportion of the
60 million Windows users worldwide may be sharing many of the same
switch to OS/2
if you're frustrated with Windows, they were told-- Windows 95 is
by the end of 1994. Well, maybe spring 1995. Now it's August. And
of course, that means the product (if it meets the latest deadline)
will be "released" by August 31. Add on another six weeks or so for
significant quantities to arrive on store shelves, so that means
If it's on schedule.
who remained a rumour throughout the play, Windows 95 has actually
been seen and used (several forms) by some people. There are 40,000
beta-testers worldwide-- people who have volunteered to try out
of the software that are not yet fully functional, in order to help Microsoft
find out what works and what doesn't, out in the real world. As one of
these testers, I've been living with an evolving Windows 95 since last
October. I've installed at least half a dozen different versions, known
as "builds," carefully reporting to Microsoft what works, and, more
importantly, what fails to work.
is taking these
reports seriously: it's making an honest effort to make this product
work on as many of the wide variety of PC configurations as possible.
After I sent in a fairly minor bug report last week, I got home to
find a detailed long-distance message on my answering machine from
a Microsoft technician working through the evening the night before
the long weekend, and then another message from the poor guy, back at
work on Saturday!
lot to like
in the product, even in these pre-release versions: it's visually
and generally does a good job of installing and dealing with the
chaos that passes for PC hardware. And Microsoft has taken note of
the problems that new users often have with the current version of
Windows, producing a cleaner, more graceful interface that I believe
will be much less confusing.
takes a lot of work. I've seen how hard Microsoft has been trying to
make Windows 95 work on virtually every possible hardware configuration
(from a baseline of a 386DX with 4 megs of ram-- earlier machines need
not apply). Because of that, I've respected their decisions to postpone
the product's release: better for it to be late and solid than rushed
out the door before it's ready. But I wonder what happens now.
lately that the current versions of Windows 95 don't run newer, more
powerful 32-bit versions of software as well as might be hoped, and
preparing for this next generation of software is one of the big
for users to move up to Windows 95. Since most beta testers have few
32-bit applications, this problem has taken a
long time to become apparent.
claims to be
aware of the problem, and promises that a fix is in the works. But
that's one more thing that will need to go through the testing cycle,
and all too often with complicated projects like software, fixing
one thing breaks something else.
And as the
date looms ever closer, so does the pressure to declare the thing done,
ready or not. In a classic example of the customer paying for the
sizzle, 400,000 users, anxious to try out a pre-release version,
phone lines (1-800-95-PREVIEW) to pay $39 plus shipping and handling
for a copy that's guaranteed to be unfinished, and that will
in a year. And these users all get the version before the 32-bit fix
Windows 95 since
last fall, I can testify that unlike Godot, it will arrive. But we'll
have to wait and see whether it will, in fact, meet all its stated
goals, or whether, in order to avoid yet another delay, Microsoft
has to compromise its vision.