Win98 direct upgrade is in the works, but be aware of pesky bugs

Recent GCN surveys show there are still a lot of Microsoft Windows 3.x users--46
percent--in the government [GCN, Sept. 15, Page 10]. I'm not convinced that Windows 98
will be a terribly useful upgrade for them. I also doubt most Windows 95 users will gain
much from an early switch to Win98, except for the opportunity to discover exciting new
bugs.


Microsoft Corp. has decided to build a direct upgrade path from Windows 3.x to Win98,
letting the majority who never bought into Win95 skip it entirely. I wouldn't jump on this
bandwagon until the worst bugs have been fixed, but it might be a good move for many users
in that 46 percent installed base.


If you're still in Windows 3.1 or 3.11 and chafing about it, then you should take a
look at a low-cost, direct upgrade to Win98 next year. The first thing to consider is
whether you'll have full backward compatibility with present applications. There are a lot
of ifs here, but that's the nature of the upgrade beast today.


Maybe you've decided instead to bait your hook for Windows NT 5.0. If so, oil the reel
and put that fishing pole back in the closet, because the bait is going to smell by the
time NT 5.0 hits the streets in early 1999.


Yes, it may be fantastic when it arrives, but my mama didn't raise any kids dumb enough
to waste time and ink on the details of something so far in the future of software. Things
do appear to be moving quite slowly for NT 5.0.


Intruder alert: Internet Explorer 4.0 beta users should know that beta Version 2
appears to have a DirectX bug that lets World Wide Web page operators destroy your files.
I recommend shutting down any beta versions of the browser if you visit unfamiliar sites.


Microsoft knows about the bug, and it isn't in the final release of Explorer. I won't
criticize Microsoft for the security bug, serious as it may be, because users should know
better than to expect beta versions to work right. I run across many people who seem to
have forgotten that beta versions are what software companies give out to receive free
testing.


Some people justify the time they spend on beta versions as a way to familiarize
themselves with products before they hit the street. I seldom look at beta versions now,
because in the past I've fallen in love with certain beta features only to not see them in
the final versions.


Another fallacy of beta testing lies in the notion that people want1 to jump to a new
or upgraded product as soon as Version x.0 becomes available.


Despite the vast resources that software companies claim to devote to beta testing, I
still see a lot of x.0 versions that don't run as advertised. In some cases, they won't
install.


One company representative told me it was a mystery why that company's program refused
to install on my test computer. The company hadn't tested on the same brand from Compaq
Computer Corp. I wonder what they did test it on.


If you enjoy serving as a volunteer for Bill Gates and other cash-strapped developers,
remember this: Play with and make suggestions for improving beta versions, but for your
data's sake, don't rely on them for serious work.


Don't look for a digital video disk player under the holiday tree this year. Just as
things appeared to be moving along smoothly for high-density DVD archival storage
technology, yet another new encryption scheme has surfaced to delay market arrival.


The snag is with the movie DVD version, which is technically irrelevant for computer
DVD drives. But DVD drive production needs to ramp up for home sales before the price can
drop for computer drives. That makes for yet another standards war.


Sony Electronics Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Philips Electronics Inc. recently made a
small move toward settling the standard for their DVD rewritable technology. They settled
on a name: DVD-RW.


Unlike the rival rewritable format dubbed DVD-RAM by Toshiba America Information
Systems Inc. and Hitachi America Ltd., DVD-RW will be compatible with first-generation
DVDs (also known as DVD-ROM).


Please don't e-mail me to point out that these acronyms have nothing to do with memory
in the accepted sense. Sony and the others know that. It just shows once again how
meaningless it's becoming to spell out computer acronyms. ROM and RAM are mostly used as
words rather than as acronyms these days.


The DVD-RW format is supposed to store 3G per side, compared with today's CD-R capacity
of 650M. DVD-RW and DVD-RAM drives won't likely be available for a while, though, in view
of the incompatibility of the two proposed standards.


To sum things up: We have a new standards war over the movie DVDs (DVD-ROM) and yet
another standards war over the forthcoming DVD recordable drives (DVD-RW vs. DVD-RAM).
Meanwhile, CD-R has about a fifth as much capacity but works just fine and is available
today.


The choice seems obvious if you want to store about 500M to 600M per disk. Forget DVD
and buy a CD-R or CD-RW drive, which can also make CD-Rs.


If you really need to write 3G on a DVD-compatible disk at your desktop, and if you
want to make sure your chosen DVD recordable/rewritable standard is widely accepted, then
you'll have a wait on the same scale as the wait for NT 5.0.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.


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