So much hype? Or
worth the wait?
By Jim Bray
Some people feel the long awaited update to Microsofts excellent
Windows 95 operating system is a useful upgrade that enhances their PCs
performance. Others, however, have found it to be a performance hog with
an uninstall option that can decimate your hard drive.
So which version is true? Unfortunately, they both seem to be.
In the Beginning...
Windows 95 was a revolutionary
product that brought the PC operating system into the 32 bit world of
today. Compared with DOS, or even with Windows 3.x, it was a breath of
fresh air. Windows 95 was more efficient that its predecessors, easier
to use, easier to network, and just plain better. It wasn't without flaws,
but what product is?
Three years later,
however, even Windows 95 was getting a bit long in the tooth. After all,
three computer years are even shorter than three dog years, and a lot
has changed since Bill Gates unwrapped Win95. So it was time for the operating
system to leap toward the new millennium,
here it is...
Though touted by some
as a major new operating system, Windows 98 is really just an upgrade
to Windows 95 - and there's nothing wrong with that.
You begin to notice
the changes right from the setup, which is easy and intuitive. Once the
system's on your hard drive and you've rebooted, you'll notice that the
interface is quite different from Windows 95 - unless you're using Windows
95 in conjunction with Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
IE is actually responsible
for most of the interface changes you can actually see, so if you don't
like IE you may want to stick with Windows 95. I don't like IE's interface,
but can certainly live with it to get the other upgrades in Win98, like
better Internet dialup and connectivity, etc. You may also gain better internet performance with IE by simply downloading
ActiveX software. Their ActiveX controls work over the web with IE to bring enhanced functionality
to web pages.
One of the most welcome
features of Windows 98 is its FAT32 file system. Under the old FAT system,
today's larger hard drives end up wasting a lot of otherwise usable space
because of the way the data is stored on the hard drive. FAT32 changes
this, allowing more efficient use of those big hard drives that are now
FAT32 as a Windows 98 innovation is a lie. FAT32 was available on later,
standalone, versions of Windows 95, so it ain't new. It's still welcome,
however. And now you get a graphical FAT32 conversion utility that can
convert your old FAT drive to a FAT32.
I wish you could also
choose NT's NTFS system, which is better still, but you can't.
Other new wrinkles
include improved and standardized power management (the Advanced Configuration
and Power Interface or "ACPI" standard) a new maintenance wizard
that'll help you schedule disk tune up tasks (Windows 95 required the
addition of Microsoft Plus for this), and a couple of other utilities
(like the "quickres" on the fly display adapter adjustment utility)
that were either included in the earlier MS Plus or, like FAT32, included
on later Win95 releases.
Win98 also includes
WebTV for Windows, which if you have a TV tuner in your computer (and
live in the right areas) let you take advantage of this new Internet-based
service. It wouldn't work where I live, though, because the service wasn't
available yet, so I can't comment on its functionality. Web TV lets you
watch TV and interactive TV on your computer, as well as providing a program
guide to let you know what crap's playing in the vast wasteland. It also
brings search capabilities to the TV listings, program reminders, and
You also get DirectX
5, which is a nice video enhancement for multimedia and games. You may
already have this installed if you're running any number of current games
or multimedia titles, however.
One interesting feature
is the new "multiple display" support. This lets you hook up
more than one monitor at a time (as long as you have a video card for
each monitor), which can be nice for desktop publishers, web developers,
video editors, etc. because you can work on one screen while viewing the
result of the work on another. It's an extremely handy tool, and I found
it especially handy for viewing a web page on different resolutions at
the same time - one on each monitor. And just wait until you get multiple
And of course you
also get support for the new AGP (advanced graphics processor) video interface,
USB (universal serial bus), DVD, IEEE1394 etc.
There are also tweaks for the PCMCIA, and infrared interfaces.
As mentioned above,
the new interface is taken from MS Internet Explorer4, which brings a
web browser-like feel to every point and click you make and every window
you open. One nice feature about this is that you can now have a little
thumbnail image of the graphics files on your system without having to
load a separate, standalone viewing utility like Quickview Plus.
browsing, and exploiting is all over the Windows 98 interface, and the
web-weaving includes a new "LiveUpdate-type" feature that lets
you log on to Microsoft's web site and automatically download updates
as they become available.
And you also get Microsoft
FrontPad, a miniature version of FrontPage that lets you create web pages
in a virtually WYSIWYG environment.
There are lots of
other utilities and the like, many of which will be basically familiar
to Windows95 users - but Microsoft has also included a couple of new ones.
Disk Cleanup, for instance, gives you a list of files the computer figures
it's safe for you to remove if you want to free up some hard drive space.
System Information Utility 4.1 is a centralized utility that gathers configuration
information for those times you need to rattle off a list of your hardware
and software to some tech support person.
You also get a Registry
Checker, which is supposed to find and resolve Windows Registry problems,
as well as backing up the Registry on a regular basis. And the Automatic
Skip Driver Agent keeps track of operations or drivers that fail when
you start up your system - and thereby skips them to prevent the Startup
procedure from shutting down.
The list of new wrinkles
goes on and on, but this is really a somewhat major tweak, rather than
a whole new operating system - and there's nothing wrong with that.
So how does the new
upgrade work? People to whom Ive spoken are of two minds - happy
with Windows 98 and PO'd with it. Most are happy with Windows 98 and feel
it does tweak the performance of their system. And many people like the
Internet Explorer interface. As mentioned above, I don't, but can live
Actually, that isn't
quite true. Since changing to a permanent Internet access that requires
no dialup I've become much more fond of the IE interface, which treats
the world wide web as just another storage device on your system (kind
of like a gigantic CD-ROM) - and I find that very handy.
What I found most
annoying about my first Win98 installation is that my system, my sons
system and the system of a close friend, actually slowed down appreciably
after installing the upgrade version.
And since speed is
what it's all about, I uninstalled Windows 98 from my system using the
built in uninstall program. That was where I really ran into trouble:
while uninstalling itself, it also erased everything on my C: drive -
which you can understand left me feeling none too happy with the operating
system. And which makes me deathly afraid of reinstalling it, lest I lose
another couple of days restoring everything.
It gave me good reinforcement
of the value of backing up your data, however!
No one else to whom
I've spoken has reported these problems, though, so perhaps it was operator
error - though I think I've done this enough by now to know what I'm doing.
Since then Iive installed
the full version (for PC's without Windows) and have had none of these
problems repeat - so maybe it was me all along! (Nah!). And the operating
system does seem more stable than WIndows 95, though there's still a way
To buy or not to
If you're getting
a new PC, it's worthwhile ensuring they stick Windows 98 on it for you.
And if you're still labouring under the yoke of Windows 3.x, it's worth
upgrading. Likewise, if you don't have FAT32 on your Windows 95 installation
(as mentioned, only newer OEM releases have it), it's a worthwhile feature
for those big hard drives of today.
But if you're happy
with your current performance and don't need anything more sophisticated,
there's no pressing need to upgrade unless you want to remain current
for the coming generations of hardware and software.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think