By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
Preview Windows 98? Not on my life.
That was my first reaction. I treasure a stable operating system too much. I need to have a PC that works.
But I caved in. Microsoft is just about finished with Windows 98, and rumors from the company's headquarters say the current test version is as close to the final product as anything could be. And others who have installed the latest preview version say it's been behaving very well.
So I backed up all my Windows 95 files and spun up the Windows 98 installation CD. A few hours later, I became a convert.
Without a doubt, Windows 98 is a vastly better version of Windows. Even the installation is improved. And the one of the biggest failures of Windows 95—its pointless creation of a so-called "emergency boot disk" that won't let you get to your CD-ROM drive—has been remedied in Windows 98. The new emergency booter lets you boot from a floppy and switch quickly to the CD-ROM.
Early versions of the Windows 98 beta—computer jargon for a test version that still needs fixing—could not be installed as an upgrade to Windows 3.1 or 3.11. But the current beta version handles this well. Whether your PC is running Windows 3.x or Windows 95, you'll be able to upgrade to Windows 98 from the same CD.
The big difference between Windows 95 and Windows 98 is clear as soon as the new operating system starts up. Everything seems to be part of a giant Web browser. The desktop background appears to be a Web page—and that's just what it actually can be if you turn that feature on. Windows 98 encourages you to sign up for free "channels" of Web information and entertainment that can show up right on your desktop, beneath any programs that are running.
Open up a folder on your hard drive and you seem to be navigating a Web site. The folder window even has an address bar. Type a Web address into that space and the remote page will open up before you.
Many of you already know what this is all about, because the part of Windows 98 that handles this attempt to unify the operating system with the Web is Internet Explorer 4. IE 4 is available for Windows 95 PCs, older Windows PCs and Apple Macintosh computers, too, although only under Windows 95 and 98 does it perform all its Webbifying tricks.
Luckily, you can turn all the extra functions off. I used them all the time for the first week or so, then shut off each of the many Web features, one by one, after I got tired of the dumb metaphor of looking for things that I wrote and programs I'd installed hidden in pseudo-Web pages. What made the decision final was the obvious slowdown in every activity in Web mode, including an inexcusable burp in the way folders opened. Windows 98 seemed to be checking and double checking every click of the mouse, sometimes opening and then closing the folder I was trying to get into. (It behaved normally when I shut these functions off.)
Another obvious improvement is the Start Menu, which is now very easy to customize. You can drag items off or on any part of the menu, and you can right click on a folder or program icon in the Start Menu and get the normal right-click Options menu. The Start Menu doesn't balloon all over your screen like the older one does, either; sections slide out horizontally when you linger over them.
A major annoyance for many users of Windows 95 is the Documents section of the Start Menu, which is badly named. (It should be called "Recent Documents (an incomplete list)" or something similar.) The Documents section is still there, but this time Windows 98 sticks an icon for a real documents folder—the one called "My Documents" on many PCs—right above it, so you have a better chance of blundering into the right place. (Good try, Microsoft. But next time get it right.)
There's a lot more. Next week I'll describe many of the other general improvements in Windows 98.