The next great thing being released by Microsoft is the upgrade for Windows 95. Dubbed Windows 98 by the general population (its release date will likely be early next year) but called Memphis by Microsoft, this new operating system promises, just like its predecessor, to sell millions of copies. That really goes without saying--mostly because every new PC will come bundled with this updated version, whether users like it or not. Of course, just as with the Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 upgrade, you don't actually have to upgrade your system to keep it running smoothly; in fact, according to a study by computer usage measurement company Media Metrix Inc., only about 50 percent of home computer users have upgraded their systems from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95.
To determine whether the Windows 98 upgrade is worth the trouble (any change in an operating system is bound to bring about some glitches, no matter how minor), we obtained a beta-one version of Memphis. Since this is a test version, we did not rate the program as we usually do in our Report Card section, but we took a peek behind the curtain to see what this version of Windows has to offer.
Outside Looking In
Installation of the test version was a relative breeze, with little user interaction. I installed Windows 98 on a PC that already had Windows 95 loaded, so it easily read my hardware configuration and loaded all the appropriate drivers. The program "talks" you through the process by telling you what will happen next, but it doesn't actually require any hands-on intervention. Most programs require users to sit at the computer and click on certain buttons to initiate any necessary reboots of the machine. Instead, Windows 98 alerts users that the computer will reboot within 15 seconds; you don't have to be in front of the machine for it to happen, which cuts down on the actual installation time.
Though I was able to leave my machine and have it do all the work, I was still surprised at how long the installation took. Windows 98 performs an estimated time countdown during the installation. At the start, it told me the process would be complete in 44 minutes. In actuality, the installation took closer to an hour. Some of that time, however, was spent copying over my old MS-DOS and Windows system files to ensure I could revert back to them if the bugs in this review version proved too difficult to deal with. Additionally, Windows 98 prompts you to insert a blank disk in order to create a Start-Up disk that can assist you with restarting your computer in case there is a problem.
Though Windows 98 looks and performs a lot like Windows 95, it incorporates some interesting interface changes that make it a little more fun and even a little easier to use. For example, menus don't pop up anymore; instead, they slide into view. Microsoft has also added more tips and tricks for those who don't have the time or patience to learn all the operating system particulars. A key example is the labels that appear whenever the cursor rolls over the minimize, restore and close buttons in the upper right corner of every window. This means everyone who uses Windows will know the functions of these handy but often overlooked buttons. In addition, a new desktop icon on the Windows 98 toolbar makes it simple to flip between the desktop and any program you're working in.
There are also plenty of help and troubleshooting functions available within Windows 98. For instance, the HelpDesk links users to Microsoft's resources on the Web, including in-depth technical support and a new System Update function that scans a user's PC to determine whether the latest drivers are installed for the existing hardware and software on the machine. It can then automatically install any updates. There's also improved reporting on software fault errors. For example, when the system freezes up in a certain program, it will let you know what happened and why. And there are plenty of prompts to walk users step-by-step through hardware installations.
Everyone knows that the Internet is king and that Microsoft wants a piece of any media it can get its hands on. That means keeping its users on the cutting edge of Internet and even interactive TV possibilities. To ensure Windows users have access to the Net, Microsoft has made it incredibly easy to log on to the World Wide Web using the service provider of your choice. An Online Services folder has icons for AT&T WorldNet, CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy and, of course, The Microsoft Network. In fact, the Memphis Reviewer's Guide notes: "A main goal . . . was to add Internet awareness to the existing Windows 95 user interface without requiring user retraining."
The Integrated Internet Shell is the result of that goal. This application works to integrate browser functionality (e.g., Microsoft Internet Explorer) into the Windows operating system. This includes offering a navigational tool for browsing your hard drive or network just as you would browse the Web.
Microsoft has also added some Internet-specific software to Windows 98, including Outlook Express, an e-mail and news-reading program, and Microsoft NetMeeting, an Internet conferencing solution for audioconferencing and videoconferencing via the Web.
There are plenty of technical enhancements to Windows 98 as well. Dial-Up Networking has been expanded to include Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, which will allow users to securely access private networks over the Internet. For example, if you're in a different city than your business, you'll be able to dial into a local number and connect to your office network via the Internet. There's also OnNow, a power management utility for setting appropriate power needs whether your system is a portable computer, a homebased desktop or a personal server. Our review version of Memphis had a small bug in it when it came to power management--the Suspend function on the Start menu didn't work. This should be cleared up, however, by the time Memphis hits the market.
Windows 98 also has built-in support for Intel's MMX processor technology to speed up multimedia functions, as well as support for the file system FAT32 (File Allocation Table 32), which enables users to format hard drives of more than 2GB as a single drive.
Portable computer users should appreciate the PCMCIA enhancements, including support for PC Card 32 (a 32-bit Cardbus protocol), and support for multifunction PC Cards, which means PC Card manufacturers can design cards with more than one function (such as LAN and modem or SCSI and sound).
Although none of Windows 98's improvements are earth-shattering, they are plentiful enough to make upgrading to this new operating system appealing. Ease-of-use improvements alone should help boost productivity and improve users' overall computing experience.
New And Notable Software.
- ACT! for Windows CE: Microsoft seems to have an operating system for everyone. Windows CE makes it possible to now have Windows functions on a hand-held computer (or, in the future, a system that works with your television). For those using hand-held devices, check out Symantec's ACT! for Windows CE. It allows you to take your contact names, addresses and daily schedule on the road using the same familiar ACT! interface. You'll be able to easily synchronize your data between ACT! for Windows and ACT! for Windows CE. The product costs about $99, and a trial version can be downloaded from http://www.symantec.com/trialware .
- ActivePresenter: Are you a Web-savvy entrepreneur ready to get your message out to the world? Check out ActivePresenter from Software Publishing. This new program lets you publish and deliver presentations on the Web. You create a presentation using ActivePresenter's built-in tools or Microsoft's popular PowerPoint program and then post it on your Web site for viewing by your audience. This could help eliminate your travel costs to potential clients' offices. ActivePresenter costs just $49.95 for three attendees to view your presentation and $99.95 for an unlimited number of attendees. Call (800) 557-3743 or visit http://www.spco.com for more information.
Microsoft Corp., 1 Microsoft Wy., Redmond, WA 98052, (800) 426-9400
Software Publishing Corp., 111 N. Mar ket St., San Jose, CA 95113
Symantec Corp., 10201 Torrie Ave., Cupertino, CA 95014, (800) 441-7234.
Cassandra Cavanah is a contributing editor of Portable Computing Direct Shopper magazine and has reported on the computer industry for eight years.