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Windows 98: A convenience you can live with ≠≠ or without


September 1, 1997
Web posted at: 2:17 PM PT

by Scott Spanbauer

Editor's note: This review appeared in the September issue of PC World. It's based on a beta version of Windows 98.

Our first hands-on tests reveal that Windows 95's successor offers convenience but little else: It's a collection of patches, add-ons, and slightly improved hardware support built around an Internet Explorer≠like interface.

Should you upgrade to the next version of Windows? Based on hands-on testing of the first beta version of Windows 98, we can't recommend this upgrade to everyone. If the shipping product delivers on the beta's promises and is priced right, it will offer something for some Windows 95 users and little for others. The chief attraction is the simple convenience of having all the latest patches, drivers, and add-ons available on one easy-to-install CD-ROM. The product, previously code-named Memphis, is expected to ship late this year or early next year.

Windows 98 is expected to retail for about $90.

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Unlike the transition from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, the move from Windows 95 to 98 involves no major changes to the operating system, system requirements, or software compatibility.

Moreover, Microsoft has undercut the value of the upgrade by releasing portions of Win 98 on its Web site. The most significant of these components, Internet Explorer 4.0 (available as a beta), functions identically in Windows 95 and Windows 98. The only cost to Windows 95 users is for the online time required to download the 22MB file.

And if you bought a new PC this year, chances are it came with a copy of Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2--an interim version that Microsoft released late last year through system manufacturers. OSR2 includes most of the downloadable features (though not IE 4.0), plus DriveSpace3 disk compression and interface enhancements from the Microsoft Plus add-on program, as well as support for the more efficient FAT32 file system, Universal Serial Bus devices and more (see "Not Quite Windows 98--How Close Can You Come With Windows 95?").

Still, adding all the software is a pain. Under ideal conditions, downloading the available enhancements using a 28.8-kilobits-per-second modem could take you more than 2 hours. Then you have to install the software--another hour or so. If you need to reinstall Win 95, you'll have to reapply the add-ons and patches. Next time you set up a new PC, you'll wish you had everything on one disc.

For users who've been downloading the new fixes and features all along, Windows 98 is less attractive. And those still clacking away on plain-old PCs, without the latest hardware, may not see much value in the new OS, either.

I installed Windows 98 on Dell Pentium-166 and Gateway 2000 Pentium MMX-200 desktops and on a Pentium-75 based Toshiba notebook. I installed the OS on empty hard disks and over existing Win 95 installations. (Win 98 doesn't currently upgrade Win 3.1, an option Microsoft says will be available by the time Windows 98 ships.) I also ran popular programs, including Microsoft Office 95, Lotus SmartSuite 97, cc:Mail Mobile, Netscape Navigator 3.0 and 4.01, and Id Software's Quake.

Most programs ran with nary a glitch, but there were a few problems. For example, changes to Windows' telephony module prevented cc:Mail Mobile 7 from dialing after the upgrade. The source of this bug was still unclear at press time.

In mid-July, reports in the popular press claimed that IE 4.0 discourages people from using Netscape Navigator as a default browser. I discovered that this allegation is mostly untrue. When I set Navigator as the default browser, it launched whenever I typed URLs into the Start menu's Run dialog box. However, entering URLs into an Explorer window's address field opens the site in IE 4.0, even if your default browser is Navigator. This is inconvenient for Navigator users. However, Microsoft says it's intentional because the address window is actually part of IE 4.0.

Related stories at

> Setup trade-offs of Windows 98
> Not-so-new interface of Windows 98
> Hardware support Windows 98 boasts
> Cool stuff in Windows 98
> What's it worth?
> Windows 98 offers little that 95 doesn't
> Windows 98: What's missing?
> Not quite Windows 98--How close can you come with Windows 95?
> Need more power? Wait for NT 5.0
> You can tweak your system while you wait for Windows 98 Brian Livingston's "Windows manager" column in InfoWorld
> Windows 98 = Windows 95.1 Bob O'Donnell's May 4 column

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