ISSUE 407: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
Windows 98 promises great interface features
but most users will need to buy new hardware Aug 12
Two years ago, Microsoft's much
ballyhooed release of Windows 95 was the Biggest Show on Earth.
Now, the steady work towards a replacement is taking
place in a much quieter way.
The Windows 95 glass is either half full or half
empty, depending on how you choose to look at it. Recent polling
suggests that about 47 per cent of all personal computers are running
Windows 95 -- a huge number of machines.
But that still means that over half the world's
computers are running something else: Macs, OS/2, Windows NT, but most
of all Windows 3.1 with owners unwilling or unable to upgrade.
While retaining more roots in the DOS/Windows 3.1 past
than Microsoft admitted at the time, Windows 95 looked new. Microsoft's
next system -- code-named Memphis -- will, for the most part, keep that
But don't expect to see it on shelves any time this
year. While a first-generation beta version has gone out to 10,000
testers, Microsoft has admitted that there's no way a final release can
make it onto store shelves in time for Christmas sales. And that means
it won't be called Windows 97.
But Microsoft finally has committed itself to a name,
and it's no surprise: it'll be Windows 98. The computer press will
probably keep calling it Memphis for the next couple of months, though.
The new system is designed to integrate a whole new
generation of hardware add-ons for computers. Digital Versatile Disks
(DVD), for example, hold eight times as much data as a CD-ROM, and
Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Firewire should make it possible to
easily connect all sorts of gadgets without having to fuss around
inside the case or with peculiar configuration settings. Use of these
new standards, however, has been slowed by a lack of support for them
at the operating-system level. Support for these and other devices
built into Win98 will make DVD, videoconferencing and other
cutting-edge computer use commonplace and affordable.
Win98 is also promising support for multiple video
cards and monitors, a feature that Mac users have had for a while. With
support for up to eight monitors at a time, graphics designers and
others will really be able to spread out.
Other enhancements are already available, either as
downloadable add-ins to existing systems, or, like the FAT32 file
system, only with purchase of new hardware. Digital Satellite System
and DirecTV support will let users view television via
satellite or cable. Other features are aimed at making life easier for
There's even an Internet System Update feature, which
allows the computer to update itself over the Internet.
The other big new feature in this upgrade is the
integration of the operating system with the Internet Explorer Web
browser. Microsoft has tried to make the two inseparable. Users can
view a live Web document, rather than just a static picture, on their
desktop. This so-called Active Desktop can automatically update itself
with push content from the Internet or an office intranet. That means
news, weather, stock market reports, or corporate announcements can be
put right in a user's face.
As well, this merger makes less distinction between a
personal computer, the office network and the wide world of the
Internet. All can appear seamlessly in an Explorer window. And
throughout, the system will work more like a Web browser. For example,
icons will act like buttons, with single-clicking replacing
double-clicking. (Most of these features can be turned off for users
who would rather continue to work with their old habits.)
At least for now, however, I can't see a compelling
reason for many users to want to upgrade.
While the support for new hardware will benefit
purchasers of next year's computers, it will be of less interest to
owners of 1996 or earlier equipment. And most of the new interface
features will be available to Windows 95 users who choose to get
Microsoft's upcoming Internet Explorer 4.0 (IE4) release for free over
the Net. (Preview versions of IE4 can already be downloaded now from www.
And maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't get
it. I haven't been impressed by the move on the Internet to push
content, replacing Web surfing with passive viewing. And I
certainly don't want to turn my computer's desktop over to Net
channels. Even if I were on a corporate network, I'd prefer to get
announcements as an e-mail message, thank you. After working with
Internet Explorer 4's preview for a while, I found myself turning the
new interface features off, one at a time.
When it's finally released, some time next year,
Windows 98 will doubtlessly sell many millions of copies, particularly
bundled together with new computers. I'm sure even I'll upgrade to it,
if only for the behind-the-scenes fixes and efficiency updates. Or
maybe, like many businesses, I'll plan on skipping this release, and
eventually move to the next version of NT.*