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Windows 98

Microsoft Windows 98

So much hype? Or worth the wait?

By Jim Bray

Some people feel the long awaited update to Microsoft’s excellent Windows 95 operating system is a useful upgrade that enhances their PC’s 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,

Windows 98 logoAnd 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 the Microsoft
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 standard equipment.

Unfortunately, advertising 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.

Multimedia & Web Support

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 the like.

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 screen games!

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.

Interfacing with Windows....

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.

Internet interfacing, 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.

Performance Parameters...

So how does the new upgrade work? People to whom I’ve 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 with it.

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 son’s 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 go...

To buy or not to buy?

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.


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August 2, 2012