ISSUE 440: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE
PC users know it's springtime because Microsoft is
to release the latest version of its Windows operating system - March
Spring is here at last, and along with the
seasonal flowers come rumours of new operating systems. That's been the
trend in the last couple of years since Microsoft chose to
release what might have been Windows 4.0 as Windows 95. As a result,
there have been flurries of rumours concerning Windows 96 and Windows
97 -- both remaining, however, in the might-have-been category.
By contrast, this spring's Windows 98 looks like it
will blossom into a real flower. Microsoft has (at the time of writing)
booked theatres across the country (including Robson Square) for an
April 4 preview and has announced June 25 as the release date.
The 1995 version was sprung on the world with all the
hubbub that a $100-million publicity campaign can produce. This time
around, expect something a little more modest.
The modesty is in keeping with the nature of the
product. While Windows 95 was a dramatic change from previous versions
of Windows, offering, among other features, a new user interface,
Windows 98 promises more of an evolution -- more like the change from
Windows 3.0 to 3.1 than the whole new thing we saw last time around. In
fact, many of the changes are already available.
In the three years since the last major release,
prices for computer memory and hard drives have plummeted. It's
difficult to buy a new hard drive smaller than 2.1 gigabytes. The
original Windows 95 version could support large hard drives, but only
by chopping them up into multiple partitions, potentially confusing
users and leading to misplaced data.
A quiet upgrade, Windows 95B, has featured FAT32, an
improved file system recognizing large drives as a single partition.
This version, however, hasn't been available on the retail market; it
came only with the purchase of new hardware, since it lacked an easy
way to convert existing hard drives to FAT32.Windows 98 will offer
FAT32's advantages to upgraders, along with a workable conversion
The interrelation between Windows and Microsoft's
Internet Explorer Web browser has been an issue before the U.S. courts.
In Windows 98, there's no issue -- Internet Explorer 4 is deeply
interwoven with the operating system. Look for a file on your hard
drive using Win98's Explorer or My Computer, and you're actually using
the Web browser.
In fact, you can type a Web address in My Computer,
and browse a Web site in your file manager, complete with browser-like
Back and Forward buttons. The background of individual folders or the
Desktop itself can become a Web page, complete with text and graphics.
When you do that, files and folders become buttons and links, opening
with a single-click as in your browser, rather than with a
These changes have been available to Win95 users who
added Microsoft's free Internet Explorer 4 and, as with that version,
can be turned off by users who prefer to remain with the "classic"
Windows 95 way of working. You can use another Web browser, such as Netscape
Navigator, if you prefer, and there are hints that
Microsoft will keep the U.S. Department of Justice happy by
releasing a version of Windows 98 that doesn't include its Web browser
as an icon, but even in those cases the Internet Explorer technology is
Windows 98 also adds support for other hardware that
has been released in the past few years -- hundreds of new printers and
modems are supported, along with whole new categories of devices:
high-capacity DVD drives, Universal Serial Bus and Firewire to attach
scanners, video cameras and more, as well as Accelerated Graphics Port
The lack of operating system support has slowed
acceptance of these new hardware add-ons; the release of Windows 98
will make it easier to use them, at least with new computers.
As an incremental upgrade to Windows 95, the new
version still offers support for older DOS and Windows 3.1 software and
hardware, and still includes the limitations and lack of security of
the older version. Users valuing stability and security over backwards
compatibility may want to wait for Windows NT, with a new version 5.0
promised for late 1998 or early 1999.
Unless users want to upgrade to FAT32, current Windows
95 customers may find little in this version motivating them to upgrade
right away -- but they should expect to find Win98 bundled with their
next computer purchase.
If you can't wait for June 25, however, Microsoft is
offering the December Beta 3 version for purchase at about $45. If you
expect to be installing and supporting a large number of Win98 systems,
a better value is Microsoft Press's $100 Windows 98
Resource Kit (Beta Release) (ISBN: 1-57231-878-3), 1,500 pages of
technical information, including a CD with Beta 3 of the operating
system and a collection of administration tools.
In either case, don't expect a rebate on the official