ISSUE 520: The high-tech office- Oct
Microsoft's many Windows are not created equal
A couple of weeks ago, we tried to help make
sense of the multitude of CPU options confusing potential PC
purchasers. This time, we're taking a look at the many flavours of
Microsoft Windows competing for your operating system dollars. (If
you're a Mac user, or are running your PCs on Linux or OS/2, don't
despair, you're not forgotten.)
Windows is an operating environment. A computer with
just Windows on it doesn't do much. Windows, however, provides your
real applications with the tools they need to run.
Depending who you ask, some 85 to 90 per cent of the
world's computers are running some version of Windows and, unlike
computer processors and other hardware, they're all de-
pendent on a single company -- Microsoft. Still, there are
enough versions around that it sometimes seems like Microsoft is busy
competing with itself and confusing its customers.
While Windows has seemingly been everywhere for the
past five or six years, the product was first released way back in
November 1985. The first couple of versions were not well accepted,
however. I'd be surprised if anyone is actually running versions 1 or 2
of Windows anymore.
The big bang in the Windows universe started with the
1990 release of Windows 3.0, followed by version 3.1 two years later.
Again, while hardly anyone still uses version 3.0, many businesses
continue to run Windows 3.1 or 1994's Windows for Workgroups 3.11. In
fact, Windows 3.1 or bare DOS sold more than a million copies in 1998.
For businesses running a limited set of older, perhaps custom-written
software, it's quite reasonable to stay with these older systems,
particularly if they have a mix of older and newer hardware.
The Microsoft hype machine peaked with the release of
Windows 95 in, you guessed it, 1995. A $100-million ad campaign
promised to "Start You Up." And while businesses only slowly moved from
Windows 3.1 to 95, the newer version is now the most widely used. In
1998, it accounted for 57.4 per cent of operating environments shipped
worldwide. Most everyone has seen its interface somewhere.
Quietly, Microsoft released at least five different
versions, following up the original with Win95A through D. I prefer
Win95B, which combined bug fixes with support for large hard drives
without the extra bulk of features such as Active Desktop, which slow
down the later releases until users learn to turn them off.
The release of Windows 98 was quieter, and with good
reason. While this version has some nice features, it is at best a
modest update of Windows 95. There is no urgent reason for businesses
running Win95 to upgrade to the later version.
Many people continue to specify Windows 95 on new
computer purchases to keep their systems consistent. This year,
Microsoft released a Windows 98 Second Edition. It's single new
feature, Internet Connection Sharing, is aimed more at home than
Starting in 1993, Microsoft began offering an
operating system, Windows NT, aimed primarily at larger enterprises. NT
comes in different packages for small to medium-sized servers and for
desktop users. On the surface, the various versions of NT look much
like the corresponding version of Windows.
NT 3.1 through 3.51 resemble Windows 3.1, while NT 4.0
looks like Windows 95. Under the hood, NT was redesigned from scratch
and offers stronger security. Unlike Windows 95, the user log-on is for
real. (Windows 95's log-on can be defeated by simply pressing the
Escape key. It only looks secure.)
NT however, requires more computer power than Windows
95, while supporting fewer types of computers and add-on peripherals.
Although it has become the standard in some larger enterprises, it
isn't really aimed at the broader market. As a result, NT Workstation
ed for about 11 per cent of 1998 operating system shipments. As well,
NT 4.0 has required a seemingly endless series of service packs add-
ing features while patching security holes. If you're using NT 4.0,
make sure you're running at the level of Service Pack 3 or later.
You may be getting your work done running an older
version, but Microsoft isn't finished upgrading its series of Windows
models. Windows 2000 is nearing release. As I write, Release Candidate
2 is being mailed out to several hundred thousand testers. Despite the
name, it is not really intended to replace Windows 95/98. Instead, it
is the next generation of NT and was originally given the less
confusing NT 5.0 moniker. It adds better plug and play hardware support
to NT, with a slightly updated user interface.
Microsoft is also in the early stages of testing a
95/98 update, code-named Millennium. It appears to be loaded with
multimedia features aimed mostly at home users. Business users, it
appears, are expected to migrate to Windows 2000. *