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    Whether you prefer Win95 or Windows NT, Microsoft has carved out another huge market

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #327 January 30, 1996 High Tech Office  column

    Microsoft's Windows 95 is selling well: it's currently number one in PC Magazine's sales charts. By the end of 1995, close to 10 million new computers had been sold with Windows 95 pre-installed, with another four million or so upgrade packages sold. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are half as many computers running Windows 95, less than six months after its launch, as there are Macintoshes, more than 10 years after Mac's debut.

    But by some estimates, that's a sales slump: some had predicted 30 million units sold by the end of '95, for example. And then there's the trickle-down effect--many software companies had postponed new releases in late 1994 and the first half of 1995, waiting for Win95's release, so software sales during this period were relatively slow. Still, many of the companies releasing Windows 95-compatible versions in the second half of the year have been disappointed. Utilities vendor Symantec and Canadian graphics company Corel, for example, have found sales of their Windows 95 versions lower than anticipated, and have posted losses for the period.

    One upgraded product that has sold well, however, is Microsoft's upgrade to Office, its suite of word processor, spreadsheet and more, which currently owns 80 per cent of the market for such suites.

    One unexpected side effect: many had anticipated strong demand for random-access memory (RAM) caused by users upgrading their systems for Windows 95, but fewer did this than expected, and RAM prices have taken a tumble for the first time in about two years.

    Most of those upgrading to Win95 have been home or small-business users attracted by some real improvements, including an easier-to-use interface, better hardware support (Plug 'n Play), an end to the memory-resource problems that limited multitasking with older Windows versions, and the arrival of the long filenames that Macintosh users take for granted.

    Microsoft sponsored a study by International Data Corporation, which concluded that Windows 95 users were more productive than either Macintosh or OS/2 users, carrying out a range of common tasks with both more speed and more accuracy. Both Apple and IBM have been quick to jump on the study's methodology and question its results.

    Big businesses, to a large extent, have resisted calls to upgrade, understandably conservative in the face of a new operating system that may or may not be compatible with their existing investment in hardware, software and employee training. Network administrators, in particular, tend to fear making their already complex systems more complicated by having some users on Win95 while others remain with older versions of DOS and Windows.

    Some businesses feel more confident of using the second version: they're waiting while Microsoft tests what is code-named Memphis--reportedly minor bug-fixes and enhancements of Win95--for possible release later this year. Microsoft, however, claims to have no plans for major changes until at least 1997.

    Others are taking a hard look at Microsoft's high-end Windows NT. If they need to upgrade their hardware for Windows 95 anyway, they reason, they may as well go all the way and get the industrial-strength stability and security built into NT. And with a future upgrade of NT expected to include an easier-to-use Win95-style interface, that becomes a more attractive alternative. It is estimated that the network-server version of NT is currently selling 30,000 copies per month.

    A number of major manufacturers, including Compaq, Dell, and IBM have announced plans to pre-install NT on new, high-end hardware. And fully 32-bit NT will perform at full speed on Intel's new high-end Pentium Pro machines, which run Windows 95 at the speed of older, less-expensive hardware.

    Ironically, the growing interest in NT results in Microsoft competing with itself for customers' dollars. But whether businesses upgrade to Windows 95 now, wait for the next version, or make plans to migrate to Windows NT, Microsoft still looks likely to retain its hold over the operating systems used on the vast majority of our personal computers.

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