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Windows 98?

February 9, 1998
by Zac Belado

I find it ironic that Word 97 marks Windows 98 as a suspected spelling mistake.

If you ask me Microsoft was begging the Justice Department to try and block the release of Windows 98 if only to help generate some hype over what must be the most pointless operating system update ever. The level of public interest is so low that even the Seattle media (a group that eagerly covers reports of excessive flatulence on the part of Bill Gates) aren't paying attention to it.

Even the PC magazine press, those peerless cheerleaders for Redmond-made wares, seem less than excited about Windows 98. And who can blame them? Even Microsoft admits that Windows 98 is nothing more than a compilation of 3000 bug fixes and the Active Desktop into a single CD. If you have Internet Explorer 4 and the latest release of Win95, you pretty much already have Windows 98. The reasons to plunk down $90 ($317 Cnd) are not really compelling.

In fact Windows 98 is so bereft of actual advances that Microsoft is playing up the decreased startup and shutdown times as a performance increase. You read that correctly. The 4 seconds less time you spend tidying up your desk while your machine shuts down is now considered a productivity increase. If this isn't the sign of a desperate spin on a dead-in-the-water product I don't know what is.

Now before I go any further into my little "discussion" of Windows 98 let me set the record straight and mention that I am writing this very diatribe on a PC. I use a PC at my office and I do almost all my web work on my PC (only, I must point out because my Mac is too slow to run Dreamweaver). About 4 months ago I finally went out and bought a PC and the last 101 days have made me more of a Mac bigot than ever.

Which brings us back to Windows 98.

The Microsoft press machine likes to focus on 3 areas that Windows 98 is supposed to add new value to the operating system: interface improvements, hardware support and faster performance.

Interface improvements. The UI improvements that Microsoft has added is basically the Active Desktop from IE 4. All I can say is that if the Active desktop is your idea of an improvement then you had better get out of the software business. I recently "removed" the Active Desktop off a machine at work and had to re-install Win95 because of it. Thank goodness the browser is going to be even more tightly integrated into the OS.

Hardware support. Basically DVD and USB. Very cool if you have a computer with no existing peripherals but if you've actually bought a modem, scanner or printer in the last two years it is of no use.

Faster performance. Even the most optimistic reports I've read state that you will barely notice the speed difference between Win98 and Win95.

So what's the big deal?

Damn good question. But ultimately what can you expect from a company that now exists almost entirely off the proceeds of software upgrades. Microsoft needs Windows98 in order to keep their revenue stream at its expected size. Hardware manufacturers need it so you'll upgrade your machine and buy fancy new USB peripherals.

You need it like you need a hole in the head.

Zac Belado is a programmer, web developer and rehabilitated ex-designer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. He currently works as an Application Developer for a Vancouver software company. His primary focus is web applications built using ColdFusion. He has been involved in multimedia and web-based development, producing work for clients such as Levi Straus, Motorola and Adobe Systems. As well, he has written for the Macromedia Users Journal and been a featured speaker at the Macromedia Users Convention.

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