Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Now that all the smoke has cleared, Windows 95 actually looks pretty good

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #307  September 12, 1995 High Tech Office  column

    In case any of you have been asleep for the past couple of weeks, August 24th, the date decreed by the Gnomes of Redmond for the release of Windows 95, has come and gone.

    We've had the official release activities, with Bill Gates and Jay Leno entertaining a crowd of 2,500, broadcast by satellite around the world (including a showing at Vancouver's OmniMax and several local computer stores such as Doppler). We've had TV ads notable for their use of the first Rolling Stones' song to grace a commercial product. It's the only time that a software release (and an operating system, at that) has made the monthly entertainment calendar of Vancouver's major daily newspaper. An advertising budget of $100-300 million can do that for you.

    So the launch made the TV news, along with shots of people lining up outside Future Shop, and other outlets opening at midnight or staying open until 2 a.m. In the first four days of sales, a reported one million people had purchased the product--a figure that Windows 3.1 took 50 days to reach.

    Many will react to all the hype with a world-weary cynicism, but Windows 95, while not perfect, does have a lot to recommend it. For starters, the new interface is pretty slick, and it's not just a pretty face--it does a much better job for both new users and self-styled power-users. While the much-hyped START button lets users get that word processor up quickly and easily, there's a new depth of customization possible for the people who love to fiddle with the thing.

    Windows Classic (version 3.1) had a couple of serious shortcomings: if you were multitasking--running multiple programs, which was one of its selling points--it was easy to run low on system resources. That soon led to deteriorating performance and, ultimately, system shutdowns--even if there was lots of free memory.

    Win 95 makes this a thing of the past. And while the new version multitasks the past generation of Windows applications in much the same way as version 3.1, it promises considerably more stability if you upgrade to the next generation of Windows 95 applications.

    Windows 95 will run nearly all your current inventory of DOS and Windows Classic applications without any problems. Printing is much faster, for example, as is video and CD-ROM use.

    There are some minor glitches with a number of popular applications, but on the whole, Win 95 does a good job of preserving your investment in current software. It will really shine, however, with the next generation of software, which is just starting to appear. These applications, designed from the ground up for the new operating system, promise increased performance and stability along with increased ease of use.

    You'll need new applications, for example, to take advantage of Windows 95's ability to use long filenames: with the older versions, you'll still have to remember that BDG95-3.XLS is your third-quarter 1995 budget spreadsheet. (Win 95 still creates classic DOS filenames for the times you need to share your files with older software.)

    It's easier to install new hardware and software. Again, hardware and software designed for Windows 95 work best, but Win 95 works better with your current inventory than past versions of DOS or Windows have.

    In designing Windows 95, Microsoft was faced with the competing demands of compatibility with the past and the need to meet future requirements. It's easy to think of ways it could have been done differently, but given the inherent compromises, I think they did a pretty good job. People running Macintosh or Warp are entitled to snipe at Windows 95 from the sidelines: many of its improvements have been features of those systems for years. And each offers features that Win 95 still doesn't completely match.

    Nevertheless, for millions of computer users, neither is a real alternative. And for many of those millions, Windows 95 is an attractive upgrade that is available now. However, I can't send you off to order a copy without making you aware of a couple of things.

    The package says that you can install and run Windows 95 on a computer system with four megabytes of RAM, and there are many millions of such systems, including the bulk of the notebook computers. The statement on the package is true--but you won't be happy with the result. Don't even bother trying with less than eight megs of RAM (and don't be surprised if increased demand for RAM pushes up prices for computer memory, and for complete systems).

    And make sure you have at least 50 megs of free hard-drive space. If you can, get the CD version. You can get it on 14 floppy disks, but swapping between them can cause sprained elbows. And the technical documentation, several useful utilities, and a bunch of sounds and videos are included on the CD.

    And don't--I repeat, don't--use your current DOS or Windows disk utilities after you install Win 95. Over the past week or two, there has been a small plague of computer users who've installed the new Windows, then run their old standbys like the Norton Utilities Speedisk or Disk Doctor, and found that they've damaged the new long-filename system, and made their computer unusable. Enough people have done this to clog Microsoft's telephone help lines. Windows 95 includes basic versions of these sorts of utilities that will work, and replacements for the more sophisticated third-party products (like Symantec's Norton Utilities) have already started to appear.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan