That's like six months compared to many publishing deadlines. But then
the other shoe fell: Windows 98 was the topic. This meant I'd have to install
the Windows 98 beta software on my trusted PC to master the next generation
of Windows. I honestly learned my lesson the last time I installed the
Explorer 4.0 beta on Old Faithful and swore off beta programs for good.
Beta software is a "pre-release" of the final retail version and by
definition is full of bugs and glitches that the developers are working
through during this testing phase. Beta testers are usually true computer
geeks that sit in front of a PC all day tinkering and tampering with vital
system files. I have neither the constitution nor the expertise of a true
hacker and therefore have chosen to stick to more reliable applications.
But in the end, the almighty dollar won out over common sense and I set
out to perform a complete lobotomy on my perfectly good computer that had
served me so well.
Microsoft Windows 98, a k a Memphis, is the soon-to-be-released upgrade
to the current operating system standard, Windows 95. It's not nearly the
leap that users made when they migrated from Windows 3.x to Windows 95,
but the changes are noticeable.
There's a smoother, more fluid interface that's more intuitive and interactive
than its predecessor. When the upgrade was finally complete, I felt a bit
like Jody Foster in "Contact" when she finally landed in the Vega constellation.
There was a familiarity to the interface, but it was tinged with a surreal
quality. "Dorothy, we're not in '95 anymore."
The most obvious change in this new operating system is the pervasive
integration with the World Wide Web. Not only can you transform your entire
desktop into a web browser for navigation convenience, but there are also
web page links scattered throughout the Help areas and other resource locations.
You can choose, as I did, to retain your traditional Win95 desktop look,
rather than opt for the "Active" desktop.
The Active Desktop allows you to program your desktop to display active,
rather than fixed content, such as wallpaper. You could, for example, display
a Dow Jones ticker tape at the bottom of your desktop. This information
is pulled from the Internet at regular intervals then broadcast to your
This push technology, or webcasting as Microsoft calls it, is a new
feature of this operating system that offers you channels of information
delivering current content from your favorite Web sites directly to your
computer. You can select content from Microsoft's "push partners," such
as Disney or Discovery, or customize your own channels.
The enhanced system tools in Win98 are a welcome addition to this operating
system. The Tune-Up Wizard can be scheduled to run on a regular basis,
scanning your hard disk for errors, speeding up frequently used programs,
and deleting unnecessary files. The System File Checker verifies to see
that essential Windows system files are intact.
The Microsoft System Information Utility centralizes all the system
information in one convenient location for easy editing or troubleshooting.
Advanced users will appreciate their win.ini, autoexec.bat, system.ini,
and config.sys files all displayed graphically from one dialog box.
FAT32 is an improved file allocation system that uses hard disk space
more efficiently. A FAT32 conversion utility is included to convert an
original version of FAT to FAT32. The Web is intricately woven into these
system diagnostics, allowing you to download updates and missing or corrupted
There's plenty of new applets and fluff to please all users. Individual
folders (windows) can now be customized with a background picture, wallpaper,
or web page rather than the plain white background. The Windows taskbar
is vastly improved allowing you to drag and drop applications, documents
or folders directly onto the taskbar. In this way it behaves much more
like the Office97 shortcut bar.
Outlook Express and FrontPage Express are excellent applets that are
now included with Windows 98. Outlook Express is the e-mail client that
replaces Internet Mail and News while FrontPage Express is an HTML editor.
Both these applets integrated seamlessly with my existing software are
now being used exclusively.
All things considered, Win98 Beta has proven to be remarkably stable
and a welcome upgrade. Whether it's my imagination or wishful thinking,
I have noticed an improvement in speed and system performance. The "Uninstall
Windows 98" option still lurks in my Control Panel, but I've decided that
98 in '98 didn't turn out so bad after all.
Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company,
Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached
by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or
by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the
Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com.
for past archived columns.