betting that we're still willing to spend on new operating systems
by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #351 July 16, 1996 High Tech Office column
that operating systems--the basic software that determines how your
computer works and gives it whatever passes for its personality--are
becoming less and less important these days. If you're doing your
word processing using Microsoft Word and exploring the Internet
with Netscape Navigator, it hardly matters if you're using a
Windows PC or a Mac.
developers are preparing a new generation of software, hoping to fill
your hard drive and empty your wallet.
has won the hearts of several million hard-core computer hackers by
letting users customize virtually every aspect of their systems. At
the same time, it's a solid and stable environment that lets them
run DOS and Windows programs as well as native OS/2 software. IBM
is currently beta-testing the next generation, code-named Merlin,
aiming for release late in the year. Merlin offers even more
opportunity for customization, as well as better Internet and network
But the big feature is that users can talk to it: not only
can they order their software around (which multimedia Mac users have
been able to do for a couple of years), but they'll be able to dictate
to their word-processing software, using a built-in version of IBM's
Voice Type Dictation software.
to "take a letter" comes at a big price in system resources, however.
The current betas require 32 megs of RAM (with IBM aiming for 16 megs
in the release version), and a hefty 350 megs of drive space. And
make sure you've got at least a 75-MHz Pentium.
Microsoft is also
beta-testing system software. Windows NT comes in two flavours: a
server version aiming at replacing Novell Netware on the
networks, and a desktop version, looking to outperform Unix
on power-users' workstations. No cutesy names here: this is serious
software. NT is testing version 4.0.
is the Windows 95 look and feel--start button, task bar, Explorer.
An Internet server and browser are included in respective versions,
but Win 95's Plug and Play and power management haven't survived the
translation, making that system the better choice for most notebook
as hefty as
Merlin, NT 4.0 will still need a minimum of 16 megs of RAM (think
32 megs or more for good performance). Like Merlin, expect NT 4.0
later this year.
Windows 96 many
had expected is not to be. Instead, Microsoft is releasing a couple
of Service Packs, with a few fixes, and a few minor additional
Look for a Windows 97, however, as Microsoft has decided it will be
more than a few years before it can merge its two operating systems.
it, too. It's been about five years since System 7, so hold on tight
for (you guessed it) System 8. Code-named Copland, it's been postponed
to mid-'97. It's all in native PowerPC code, meaning that older Macs
won't be able to run it, but it promises to deliver at long last
preemptive multitasking, at least for the operating system's functions.
need to wait for another generation of software before being able
to fully multitask their programs, however. It does promise a system
that will run faster and be more stable, even on systems with a humble
8 megs of RAM. The user interface will be more customizable, and the
venerable Finder will now be able to find files not only according to
their name, but also according to their content. Look for better
integration for multimedia and Internet.
all this activity
from the big players, lots of users may just yawn. The bulk of today's
users have managed to ignore the hype and hysteria, and have stuck
with what they know works--DOS and Windows 3.1--despite clumsiness
and limitations. The big hardware demands of this next generation
mean that we won't see too many people upgrading their system software,
at least not on their old hardware.
But as those
get passed on down the office hierarchy, most businesses will find
themselves with faster, more powerful computers, with RAM and
space to run one of these soon-to-be-a-contender operating systems...
at least unless the network computer changes everything.