ISSUE 458: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE- Aug 4
Microsoft's Windows 98 is selling well
but questions remain about its usability
Windows 98 has been out in the world for about
a month now, and has already sold more than a million units through
retailers -- and that's not counting the huge number of copies
preinstalled on new computers.
That's about the same number of units sold as for its
predecessor, Windows 95, and without the $100 million that Microsoft
spent publicizing Win 95.
(Of course, cynics point out that since there are many
more computers today than in '95, the percentage of PC users rushing to
upgrade to Win 98 is lower than the comparable rate for Windows 95.)
And Microsoft is pleased to point to polls that seem
to prove that 90 per cent of Windows 98 upgraders claim to be
"satisfied" or "very satisfied."
Nevertheless, all is not rosy in Windows
Despite a long development process (re-
member rumours of Windows 96 and 97?) and thousands of pre-release beta
ling not-quite-ready-yet versions, there is a simmering underground of
users reporting difficulties converting systems that were happily
running in earlier versions. Within a week of the release of Windows
95, a number of big computer manufacturers --including Dell, IBM,
Hewlett-Packard and others -- posted notices on
their Web sites warning owners of specific models to avoid upgrading,
or to wait until Windows 98-capable fixes for their models were ready.
(All this seems a bit surprising to me -- certainly
these manufacturers had lots of warning that Windows 98 was on its way,
and lots of opportunity to fix these sorts of problems in advance of
the not-very-secret release date.)
Big U.S. mail-order company Gateway, for
example, is sending out a CD-ROM to its customers to walk them through
the upgrade process, automatically installing the proper patches and
fixes for their specific model, prior to installing Windows 98.
Many large companies are planning to skip Windows 98,
expecting instead to upgrade to Windows NT 5.0 when that version is
released in '99 (or later), and not wanting the hassle of supporting a
mix of Windows 95 and 98 systems in the meantime.
Microsoft has been subtly promoting that viewpoint,
and the new features in Windows 98 seem more focused on home users than
In fact, Windows 98's Windows Update feature, which
lets users log on to a Microsoft Internet site and upload and install
new software components, brings a look of horror onto the faces of many
big business IS managers, afraid as they are of having to manage a
company full of computers, each with its own different set of software.
Some have gone so far as to ban Windows 98 from their
companies, or to let employees know that the company will not support
them if they upgrade on their own.
On top of those issues, though, a minority of users
have reported bugs -- hardware such as modems failing to work,
installation failures and more.
Microsoft claims that Win 98 fixes more than 3,000
Windows 95 bugs, but there are worries that it introduces a new set of
bugs all its own.
In fact, Win 98 was barely a week old before Microsoft
nounced a Service Pack was on its way -- and then back-pedalled. Well,
yes, a Service Pack was coming right up, but it was not really a
bug-fix; it was more to add multimedia enhancements that weren't quite
ready for Windows 98's release date.
(And why wasn't the release date held up to include these features?)
When I upgraded my notebook to Windows 98, it started
to shut itself down, a problem related to Win 98's presumably improved
Some upgraders, faced with problems up-
grading an existing Windows 95 installation, have had better luck
erasing everything on the drive and installing Windows 98 onto a clean
hard drive. That, in fact, is what I did. Before trying that at home,
boys and girls, make sure you have a good backup of your data files!
In May, faced with U.S. Justice Department
pressure, Microsoft held a press conference. Together with Compaq
and others, Microsoft suggested that any government-forced delay in
releasing Win 98 would result in catastrophe for the computer industry
and perhaps the U.S. economy as a whole.
Was Windows 98 rushed out the door before it was ready
in order to beat government action? (In fact, new PC sales rose 37 per
cent in the month following Win 98's release.)
Or was it rushed out to give customers something new
to buy while NT 5.0 was delayed?
A peculiar Win 98 story emerged when a Vancouver
Internet service provider, MDI Internet, started receiving
complaints from confused and upset Windows 98 customers. It seems that
when they used Win 98's Front Page Express to try to upload newly
created Web pages to their ISP, they received a message suggesting:
"You might want to try selecting 'other Internet provider' from the
list of Internet service providers."
Microsoft has responded that this isn't really a
not-so-subtle attempt to move customers from independent ISPs to
something like the Microsoft Network. Microsoft's product manager for
Front Page, Priscilla Mistele, has said that they will change