You probably didn't hear the trumpet fanfare or notice the searchlights beckoning, but Microsoft quietly released Windows 98 Second Edition last month with new features as well as repairs for known Win98 and Y2K glitches.
Without the benefit of Rolling Stones music or media hype, Microsoft departed from tradition and made its operating system updates available to retail customers, instead of limiting service release upgrades to operating equipment manufacturers.
The Second Coming of Windows 98, abbreviated as SE (Second Edition) is also a detour of sorts for Microsoft, which originally planned to move directly to a consumer version of its NT commercial networking OS, code named Neptune, for future PC operating system upgrades. It may be a while before Neptune debuts, since another update beyond Second Edition, called Windows 2000 Personal Edition, is also rumored to be in the works.
Windows 98 SE encompasses new features as well as "system enhancements," otherwise known as fixes for known problems. In the "new" category, SE comes with the latest Internet technology, including Internet Explorer 5, Outlook Express 5, NetMeeting 3, DirectX 6.1 and Media Player 6.1. Together, these Internet components promise faster Web searches and browsing, improved audio and video conferencing, and enhanced multimedia capabilities.
Win98 SE also expands Internet connectivity by offering the latest driver support for high-speed modems such as ADSL and cable modems. This technology promises to enable easier installation and expand the capabilities of future ADSL modems. Additional driver support for PCI and USB modems are also included with Second Edition.
Perhaps the most highly touted new feature of Windows 98 SE is the Internet Connection Sharing feature that allows multiple home PCs to share a single Internet connection for simultaneous use. Additional hardware, called network adapters, is necessary for each PC using ICS, but existing phone lines or even wireless technology can be used to create an in-home network.
Microsoft claims that ICS will work with a 56.6K speed modem or higher, but practically speaking, this technology will only see sharing benefits with true high-speed modems such as ADSL or cable.
The Windows 98 Service Pack 1, bundled with Windows 98 Second Edition, corrects known Win98 problems and includes updated device drivers. Improved support for the Universal Serial Bus enables users to easily add peripheral devices to their computer systems. A USB is a standard, "one-plug-fits-all" connector that allows devices to plug in with a single cord and no separate power source. This truly simplifies conflict problems related to port types and configurations.
Also included in the Service Pack are fixes for known Y2K maladies, such as incorrect interpretation of international dates and mail-messaging date errors in Outlook Express.The availability and pricing of Windows 98 SE has been a bit confusing thus far, but here's the latest interpretation: Windows 98 SE will be included on all new PCs sold and will be the only retail version available as an upgrade product for Win95 and Windows 3.x users, selling for $89-$109.
Existing Windows 98 users have two choices: Purchase the full Second Edition for $19.95 on CD or receive just the Windows 98 Service Pack 1 updates for free as a download product or on CD, for $5 shipping and handling costs. It's not imperative for current Win98 users to buy into the whole Second Edition package, unless you're looking for the latest Internet Explorer browsing software or seeking Internet connection sharing. You should, however, avail yourself of the Service Pack 1 to insure that your operating system is inoculated against known Y2K bugs.
To learn more:
For more information, visit the Microsoft Windows 98 Web site at www.microsoft.com/insider/windows98/
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 email@example.com or 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. Click here for past archived columns.