Is 98 a winner?

Is 98 a winner?If 95 was a vintage year for Microsoft’s Windows, 98 looks like being a let down. “There is really nothing compelling in Windows 98,” said one senior industry analyst. But is it all bad? asks Tom Foremski
Microsoft is preparing for a late June launch for its next major operating system release, Windows 98, which could boost PC sales.
This would be good news for the electronics industry which is increasingly dependent on continued strong growth in PC markets, but there are indications that many PC users will snub the new release.
Windows 98 will not offer the same kind of improvements in features and capabilities as Windows 95 did compared with Windows 3.1. It will offer some small changes in the user interface and greater support for hardware peripherals with about 1200 new hardware drivers. It will support DVD drives, Universal Serial Bus, a TV tuner and other entertainment oriented features that will appeal to some consumers, but the appeal for business users will be muted.
Even Microsoft officials have characterised the new Windows 98 as an “incremental upgrade” with key features being faster loading of some applications, taking up less hard disk space but requiring about 24Mbyte of system memory as opposed to about 16 Mbyte for Windows 95; better power management features for notebook users; and an integrated web browser.
To try and sweeten the pot, Microsoft plans to release a Windows 98 Plus package which will include extra goodies such as games, a photo album, virus scan software, and other utilities. While this may appeal to consumers, businesses are expected to give the operating system a wide berth.
“There really is nothing compelling in Windows 98 to convince most businesses to upgrade,” says Dan Kusnetzky, senior industry analyst at US market research firm International Data Corporation. (IDC). “From our surveys, we’ve found that most businesses are still running Windows 3.1and if they do upgrade, they will upgrade to Windows 95 instead of Windows 98.”
Smaller businesses are more likely to upgrade to Windows 98 but for mid to large businesses, it may take them years. “In a large organisation you have many custom applications and file formats, they cannot upgrade thousands of users at the same time, they must move slowly to ensure compatibility, which brings a catch-22 since those departments that have upgraded may find their files incompatible with those of other departments,” points out Kuznetsky.
IDC is a case in point. When it upgraded hundreds of users to Windows 95 it found that the new operating system did not recognise file formats from the older system. Although those problems were eventually solved, it will not upgrade to Windows 98 because it uses custom templates for preparing market research documents that are not going to work under Windows 98.
IDC predicts that Windows 98 will be successful in the sense that tens of millions of new PCs will ship with the system, but it is not going to see the same levels of upgrades as that of Windows 95.
In a report released earlier this year, it found that operating system purchases and upgrades within corporations almost ground to a halt in 1997, with just a 2.3 per cent increase. And the arrival of Windows 98 is unlikely to change that figure much this year.
Microsoft may not only be faced with a slow moving operating system, but Windows 98 may also bring it new problems. It has been facing the wrath of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) over the last few months for bundling its Internet Explorer web browser with Windows 95. With Windows98, the web browser is integral to the operating system, a situation that may lead the DOJ to increase its legal pressure on Microsoft to unbundle its software, which would be a major blow to Microsoft.
Windows 98, however, should help boost the fortunes of some electronics firms. For a start, PC systems will require more memory to run the operating systems, and with USB and a wide range of hardware support, it will make it easier for consumers to hook up peripherals such as scanners, DVD drives, digital cameras and printers, potentially boosting sales of computer peripherals.


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