CeePrompt! Computer Connection 

Dorothy, we're not in '95 anymore

Originally published Monday, January 12, 1998 

There was good news and bad news awaiting me as the work year began anew. A new textbook project was offered with a six-week timeline. Great news!

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 desktop.

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 files.

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 cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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