It might pay to skip Windows 98 and wait for NT 5.0

Two-and-a-half years after Microsoft Windows 95 revolutionized the
graphical interface, its Windows 98 successor offers little more, at least on the surface.


Microsoft Corp.'s newest operating system is set for delivery this spring if schedules
hold firm.


After examining the latest beta version and others that came before, I believe this
upgrade offers few enhancements important enough to warrant a switch by most government
users. For one thing, Mickey Mouse waves back at you after installation.


Microsoft's documentation claims Win98 will let users "work in an easier, more
Internet-enabled environment." But most of the Internet content in Win98 is for
entertainment, not work. The content channels will consume too much bandwidth on agency
networks, especially 10-megabit/sec or slower Ethernets.


Microsoft has fully integrated its Internet Explorer 4.01 browser into the OS. You
can't remove it, but you can delete its icon--the fix agreed on by Microsoft and a federal
judge in recent antitrust hearings.


When I deleted the Explorer icon from my Win98 installation and added Netscape
Communicator 4.04, Communicator worked fine and opened all the World Wide Web pages I
tried. The Explorer code remained hidden beneath the surface.


Counting down to the planned OS release date, Microsoft continues to battle the Justice
Department and several states to keep Win98 integrated with the Explorer browser.


The way Microsoft chose to extend the Web motif to the desktop PC is less than elegant,
as the GCN Lab reported about the alpha release code-named Memphis [GCN, May 26,
1997, Page 1]. Now in its third beta release, Win98 doesn't look much different.


Win98 users must browse their own PCs just as they browse the Web.


Dynamically created Web pages show the contents of drives. Pausing the cursor over an
icon highlights it, and Win98 usually shows some information about it.


Single-clicking launches files, although users have a choice between the single-click
and older double-click routines. Dragging and dropping takes a little more care.


Many more settings can be customized than under Win95. Flexibility is good, but many
settings are for entertainment.


The new OS incorporates Win95's Plus package, which lets users decorate their displays
with cute cursors and icons, such as the Hubble telescope under the Space theme. Such
enhancements need not be installed, but they illustrate Microsoft's focus on entertainment
rather than business.


The layers under the interface could make Win98 enticing for some office PCs, however.
There is hardware support for the Universal Serial Bus, FireWire 1394 and DVD-ROM. Even
so, recent versions of Win95 have USB support, and third-party drivers are available for
the other new technologies.


A Win98 broadcast component can decipher Web pages embedded in television signals and
display them along with the TV program if the PC has a TV tuner board installed in a PCI
slot.


Storage may be the greatest improvement in Win98. FAT32, the 32-bit File Allocation
Table, permits single hard-drive partitions larger than 2G. The clusters are smaller than
those on 16-bit FAT drives, making access more efficient.


They also rid Windows of its 16-bit legacy. On the GCNdex32TM benchmark test
for drive access, some FAT32 systems were as much as 10 percent faster than its
predecessors.


Unfortunately, FAT32 can't be used in conjunction with Windows NT 4.0. Individual data
files can be transferred by network or floppy, but they won't be shareable in a dual-boot
Win98-NT installation. NT 5.0 is expected to include FAT32 support, however.


FAT32 came with recent versions of Win95, but it required a complete reformat of the
drive. Win98 has a convenient conversion utility. Win98 also supports the MMX extensions
for Pentium MMX and Pentium II processors.


Some users will like the new OS' ability to accept multiple video cards and monitors.


Virtual private networking, in which a remote user connects privately to the office
network over the public Internet, is possible in Win98 through the Point-to-Point
Tunneling Protocol.


A PC with Win98 also can act as a remote-access server, and there is client support for
Novell Directory Services. The best feature was that as I loaded and removed Win98
components, I usually did not have to reboot.


Win98 is not easier than Win95. The extra customability even makes Win98 a bit more
difficult for beginners.


It's doubtful that Win98 will earn as much government acceptance as Win95 has.


Next year, NT 5.0 will arrive with many of the business benefits missing from Win98.
Why not wait?


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