Monday, June 22, 1998

Week of 06/22/1998

Target: Windows 98
THIS is what the fuss is all about?
- by David Matthews 2

This Thursday (6/25), Microsoft will unleash its latest operating system to the world - Windows 98. With all the hype about Microsoft, both good and bad, I think it’s time to get some facts straight about this program.

First of all, let’s get to the point. For the majority of current Windows 95 users who have kept up with the latest upgrades, service packs, and have the latest version of Internet Explorer 4.01, Windows 98 will be nothing more than a glorified bug fix program. There will be no new interface to deal with this time. There will be a few new goodies, such as the desktop themes and full-color icons brought over from Plus 95, and the ability to upgrade the operating system over the Internet. But for the most part, Win98 will be simply Win95 with a few cosmetic updates.

For those users who have Windows 95 but have not played with Internet Explorer 4, you’ll find some interesting changes to your desktop. Just to let you know how integrated IE4 is with the operating system.. IE4 was originally considered to be Windows 96! (Now I know that little tidbit has the Department of Justice throwing screaming fits.) Bear in mind, however, that this does not mean you can’t use Netscape or Opera or any other browser. Matter of fact, one of the very few things you can thank the DOJ for is having Microsoft give you the option of removing that Explorer icon from the desktop if you so desire. Mind you, you won’t be able to remove the entire Explorer browser, because it’s now imbedded in the operating system, but you will be able to neutralize IE as your default browser.

Then there’s the other group of people for whom Win98 was supposedly designed for - the few stragglers who use still Windows 3.1 or Windows 3.11 and weren’t too sure about upgrading their computers to Win95. No doubt, these users have noticed that many of the computer programs coming out today are designed for Win95 and not Win3.x. Win98 will probably be the last opportunity for these users to upgrade without having to buy the whole and complete version of Windows.

Another issue that users will have to consider before upgrading their operating system will be if they have the right stuff inside. Keep in mind that every new operating system is designed not for the hardware that already exists as much as for the hardware that is yet to come. Win98 is a very hungry operating system, so you’d better have 300 MB of hard drive space to keep it happy. Microsoft says you can use Win98 with just 100MB, but let’s be brutally honest here and realize that when they say that it’s possible, that they’re talking about a completely stripped-down, bare bones operating system with no frills and none of the goodies that are loaded as default.

There is a basic rule with software that I consider it to be an extension of Moore’s Law. A few years ago, Intel CEO Gerald Moore speculated that processor speeds double every eighteen months. This became known as Moore’s Law. Well, the software corollary to Moore’s Law is that every new version of a program will require double the original resources to run it. So unless you have a computer with at least 2GB hard drive, 32MB of RAM, and a 100Mhz Pentium processor or faster, you’ll have to make some serious upgrades to your current system before upgrading to Windows 98.

Windows 98 is, for the most part, the latest in an unusual trend in computers. And it is a trend that has the Department of Justice and 20 states fearful of.

Consider how things work for the automotive industry. Every aspect of the parts must conform to the standards set by the automotive industry. You may build parts for Ford, but if those parts don’t comply to the parameters set by Ford as to that particular car, they won’t go in. You don’t have, say, the company that makes the speedometers telling the company that makes wheel rims they have to comply to a particular standard for the speedometer to run properly. The auto maker sets that standard, and both the company that makes the speedometers and the company that makes the wheel rims have to comply to that standard, or else they’re out of work.

In the early years of the personal computer, the industry was ruled by two companies - IBM and Apple. They controlled the industry and set down the parameters for every aspect that would go into their computers, a lot like how the automobile makers do with their cars. Then companies like Compaq came in and used reverse-engineering to design their own personal computers that were compatible with IBM’s systems. The minute that happened, IBM lost control over their half of the PC market. The focus went from the computer itself to the components that make up that computer. Intel took control over processors. Microsoft set the standard for software. Neither have a lock-down monopoly, despite what the DOJ believes, but they do set the standard in their fields.

And therein lies the real reason for Windows 98 - to benefit the hardware side of the computer industry.

As stated before, Win98 is a hungry program. If you want Win98 and you don’t have enough room in your hard drive for the program, you’ll have to buy a newer and bigger hard drive. If you don’t have enough memory in your computer to run Win98 and your favorite programs, you’ll need to buy more memory. If you have a 28.8 baud modem or slower, you’ll want to get a faster modem so it won’t take a week to download your upgrades. If you have a 486 or earlier processor, you’ll want to upgrade your processor. And odds are, if you have that kind of a processor, you’ll also have to get a brand new motherboard to handle the added power of that processor. And if you need to make all of these changes, why not just buy a whole new computer with Win98 pre-installed and just re-install your favorite programs?

See how that works?

Look, there’s a lot about Windows 98 that can make the news of its release into a non-event. Most of the features that the bulk of the users will take advantage of are already installed on Internet Explorer 4.

There are some features that Microsoft could’ve done without. The dreaded channel bar? PLEASE! That was the very first thing I removed once I installed IE4! I don’t need a channel bar! It didn’t provide me with the information I wanted to see, it took too long to download the information I did want to see, and it’s a waste of space on the desktop when I’d much rather see the wallpaper that I designed. Active Desktop? First, it’s a memory hog when it’s active. Second, most of the purposes that I’d use it for, such as an online ticker, would only work if I was connected to the Internet 24-7. Otherwise, I’d get nothing but a couple of blank windows on my desktop reminding me that I’m not online. The new taskbars are nice, although it has meant replacing the functional Office 95 taskbar that I spent time and effort personalizing to my tastes.

I don’t know why the business-busters in the Department of Justice are so obsessed with what’s on my desktop to begin with. This is just me, but I’d like a clean desktop - no icons save for maybe My Computer and the trash bin. I spend time and effort to create wallpaper that I don’t want to hide with a bunch of icons that I’ll rarely click on. Instead, I have to deal with the Inbox, the After Dark Online icon, the Network Neighborhood icon, and my Mindspring Desktop icon. I need the Inbox for my faxes. I need the After Dark Online icon for the screen saver. I’m told I need the Network Neighborhood icon so I can get online. And the only way I can use Mindspring on my computer is if I have their desktop icon freeloading on my screen. Personally, I’d like them all to be removed from my desktop. Just leave me with My Computer and the Trash bin, and I’ll be happy. If I need anything else, I’ll go to the Start menu. That is, after all, why it’s created.. right?

I don’t think there will be too many people camping out late for Windows 98 this time around, but I don’t think Microsoft will lose any money either.

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