When I first restarted blogging over the holidays I said that I wanted to re-post some articles from my previous online lives. Unfortunately a lot of that material had disappeared into the ether that is the net. However, thanks to some wonderfully simple technology some of it is back from the dead.
The following article is a first impression of a beta of Windows 98. It was written sometime in late 1997 for a website I used to run called Network Gaming Site (or NGS for short). Most of you will not bother to read it, but if you do you should particularly enjoy reminiscing about a much easier period in our technology history, where even the most simple innovations were enough to be exited about.
Morden and Co V's Win98 build 4.10.1666
Written by Matt Large (sometime in 1997)
"NOTE: After Microsoft Windows 98 is released, users will be able to purchase new PCs with Windows 98
already installed and will most likely never need to run the Setup program"
extract from Introducing Windows98 by Russell Borland
I know what I thought when this build on Windows 98 landed on my desk, and it went along the lines of "any Microsoft Beta which has "666" in the title isn't going anywhere near my computer!". My worries were not alleviated any when Richter did a fresh install of it and found that Quake II and many other games refused to play. The problem was never tracked down but he believes that it was something to do with an incompatible DirectX 5.0, interesting as I'm quite happily running Quake II and all my other games.....Oh I've gone and given away the surprise, okay I did give it ago in the end.
It was a Setup!
Here is the first, and one of the biggest shocks about Windows 98, a major feature enhancement that Microsoft are not throwing in our faces with their marketing for the product. It has a GOOD, nay GREAT Setup program. I thought Win95 was good when it managed to leverage a graphical interface on to the system in the first minute but this, wow. I've now had the joy of sitting though a Win98 install three times, well not exactly sitting through it as this is truly hands free. Once you've created the Emergency Disk and hit the "Okay to start installing Windows98" button you can safely go away. If you come back 40-50 minutes later, and all has gone well you will be looking at the Windows 98 desktop, all ready to work with. Setup will now do all the rebooting required, it was quite a shock to have my back turned and hear my PC reboot itself in the middle of an OS install! Not only this but it also give you quite a good estimate of the time remaining in minutes, however for old times sake someone has ensured that the last block of the status bar takes 20 minutes but at least you now know.
Taking in to account what had happened to Richter after attempting to do fresh installs on both of his computers I decided to try installing over the top of an existing copy. The first machine I tried it on was my server, currently a Cyrix P133+ with 16Mb and 420Mb and 540Mb drives in it. The OS I was installing over was one of the many and unfathomably different versions of Win95 OSR2 (apparently there are something like 5 different versions a-e). During this first attempt everything went well until the final reboot that should have finished the install, when Win98 finished loading (including the desktop) a little dialogue came up informing me that I had a corrupted registry and that I should reboot so that registry checker could remedy the situation. 5 reboots later I came to the conclusion that registry checker was making no attempt at all to remedy anything! So that machine came down to a fresh install which went without a hitch, and so it should with very little in the way of hardware and nothing fancy in the graphics department (I need all the speed I can get out of it for the Quake I/II server!). To be totally fair this wasn't really Win98's fault, it wasn't until I was discussing it the next day with QuakeGod that I realised how many OS's and hardware changes that computer had been through without a fresh install. I bought the computer in late 1994, when it was a 486DX2 66 with 8Mb RAM and a 420 Mb hard disk, since then the C: drive hasn't changed but it is now the spec I mentioned earlier, also the OS has gone from MS DOS 6.22/Win 3.1 to Win 3.11, then through 3 different Beta builds of Win95 to the final release and then OSR2 without a fresh install. That;s 7 OS's, no wonder it had a corrupted registry!
With that machine up and running fine, including the games that had given Richter problems I decided it was time to throw caution to the wind and update my main machine as well.
One small step for a man...
Again I tried to install over the top of Win95 OSR2, this time the hardware spec was a K6 200 (running at 210MHz and I don't know why) with 64Mb RAM and 1.2Gb and 3.2 Gb Quantum Fireball hard drives. Also installed on this machine are a Matrox Millenium II (only the 4Mb version), an Orchid Righteous 3D 3DFX card, it also has an HP DeskJet 310 and a U.S. Robotics Sportster Voice 33.6 FaxModem hanging off of it. The install went fine, I didn't touch it after starting the final phase, it required one extra reboot while working through the PnP detection of all my hardware but after that it was fine. All of my previous settings were picked up, even those from IE4 which I had inadvertently left on even though Microsoft's instruction plainly say to take it off before installing so it'll probably fall over irrecoverably in the next few weeks complaining of the wrong Explorer version.
The first thing that is done after the install is complete is a window that pops up and informs you that Windows98 is now attempting to speed up the launch times of your applications. This is one of those features that sounds so good and says it has done its job only for you to not actually notice any difference in performance, however this time I did...but only to my Microsoft apps. All the Office 97 components now load faster, and I'm almost sure Frontpage98 loads faster but aside from that it all seems pretty much the same.
Yay or Nay...Votes please.
So why should you get Win98? Well aside from that fact that it's the latest version of Microsoft's flagship OS, and you know how much support the give, or rather don't give, to none current OS's, a lot of work has been done since Win95 came on the scene back in August of 1995. If you ask most home users they will state that as the date of the dawning of the 32-bit age, however most power users will happily point out that Window NT has been around for a lot longer, and some very strange people will point out the 32-bit OS's that out date even that, some will even go on to say that we can't forget OS/2 (much as we may try!). The Win32 system has therefore been developing at an increasingly fast rate for many many years, the launch of Win95 added the push of general comsumerisation of Win32. The need to move to 32-bit computing is not only that of the consumers but also that of the soft/hardware companies who need that extra functionality to continue to improve products.
So were does this leave us today? Frankly we're in a strange situation, according to Microsoft's predictions back in 1995/96 by now we should all be sitting back in front of Cairo, or even its successor, having gone through the Windows96 patch and with Windows97 having been the last in the Win9x family. Cairo, for those that don't know should have been the successor to Windows NT 3.51, it was to have included the Directory Service, new User Interface and many of the enhancements that have since been released with the stop gap NT 4.0 or as Beta trials in their own right. Development on Cairo went seriously wrong somewhere along the way and Microsoft was forced to change tack. A large part of the problem was that all their original prediction were born out of the idea of a world that wanted to be connected, just not through the outdated medium of the Internet, when they realise that the Internet was the way forward Microsoft also found that they had lost any advantage they had in the lucrative server and high end workstation market that NT was aimed at. They needed to corner this market and did so through NT 4.0. With this product, that was stable by their usual standards, due to the fact that the base product wasn't that far from NT 3.51, came many Internet technologies, it wasn't the expected Cairo launch but it did allow Microsoft some breathing space while they reevaluated their plans. The new, and still current plan is to unify the Win95/WinNT products after the next generation, i.e. Win98 and WinNT 5.0. NT then is the future of computing, so why not go today? Well going to NT 4.0 is not the best plan, you can't upgrade directly to it and it lacks two very important components. Plug And Play for the desktop users and Power Management for the laptop users, this is why this product was never aimed at anything but the corporate desktop environment, but NT 5.0 is a different matter entirely.
I will undoubtedly go to Win98 just so I know it well from a professional point of view, I am planning to stick with the Beta versions from now on, but it will only stay for as long as I have to wait for NT 5.0. As for others going to Win98 I'd say yes to the casual home user/games player, they should hold on to the Win9x platform until the stable WDM (Win98/NT5.0 compatible) drivers are available for all their hardware as well as a stable version of DirectX 5.0/6.0 on NT. For those of you who, like myself, tend to live on the Bleeding Edge of computing just for the sake of having a kick ass computer, be it for games or Excel recalculations, then I'd say no, hold of until the release of NT 5.0.
What's in the box.
For a quick list of the new features of Windows98 I'll hand over to the Introducing Windows98 book (available from who else but the Microsoft Press!).
- Win 32 Driver Model Not too useful now but new hardware is bound to need it by early 1999.
- FAT32 support Get OSR2.
- FAT32 Conversion Utility One way only, better option is to get Partition Magic 3.0.
- Power Management Improvements Only if you have a TX or better motherboard.
- Multiple Display Support Fun but not too useful.
- Support for a New Generation of Hardware How many USB or Firewire hardware do you have, wait for NT 5.0.
- Integrated Internet Shell (baring the federal courts!) Get IE4.
- Windows Scripting Host Nice if you can program scripting languages such as VBScript and JScript.
- Display Setting Enhancements Nothing great, you can dynamically change colour depth, supported in OSR2 (I think!).
- Setup Enhancements Read the main article for news on the excellent Setup.
- Start Menu Organizer Wizard Not tried it yet, can't see it being to great though.
- Internet Connection Wizard Get through download, OSR2 or Plus!.
- Built-In Support for Microsoft Intellimouse There are many Share/Freeware programs to do this.
- Dial-Up Networking Improvements (including Multilink Channel Aggregation) If you've not got, or getting ISDN don't worry.
- Disk Defragmenter Optimization Wizard Get Norton Utilities 3.0, much better (but don't install with the patch!).
- Windows Tune Up Wizard
- Built-In Support for Infrared Data Association 3.0 Get through download.
- Online Services Folder If your reading this you're probably settled on one ISP so don't worry.
- Client Support for Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol In OSR2.
- Remote Access Server
- PCMCIA Enhancements All PCMCIA support extras are well worth it for anyone with a laptop.
- Support for PC Card32 (CardBus)
- Support for PC Cards that operate at 3.3 volts
- Support for Multifunction PC Cards
- ActiveMovie Get OSR2.
- Support for Intel MMX Processors
- Distributed Component Object Model
- Client Support for NetWare Directory Services Get through download.
- 32-bit Data Link Control
- Internet System Update Wouldn't let this do its stuff on my PC anyway!
- System File Checker Useful, but I expect it will be downloadable soon.
- Microsoft System Information Utility Been around for years, not too sure I'd label it a feature?
- New Dr. Watson Utility Annoying but useful.
- New Backup Utility If you backup anyway you'll have found a better solution by now.
- Automatic ScanDisk After Improper Shutdown Get OSR2, although this goes right through and continues loading rather than pausing before or after.
- Advanced Internet Browsing Functionality Get IE4.
- Suit of Tools for Internet Communication Get IE4.
- Personalized Internet Information Delivery Get IE4.
Life with Win98.
So far, three weeks, life has been fine. I've had a few unexpected crashes, but then this is Beta code. Not only has this coped with many games but also my continued University work. The programs I tend to write for University bring down computers at the best of times, Win98 seems to be coping. All the following software has worked fine:
- Office 97 (all the modules in the Professional edition).
- FrontPage 98.
- Borland C++ 5.02.
- Visual Basic 4.0.
- Smalltalk Express.
- Paint Shop Pro 4.14.
- Quake II.
- Age Of Empires.
- Atomic Bomberman.
- Dark Reign.
- Grand Theft Auto (3DFX version).
- Jedi Knight.
- Red Alert.
- Shadows Of The Empire.
- Moto Racer (Polygons Version).
- Tomb Raider 2.
- Plane Crazy Demo.
I've not been able to test X-Wing V's Tie Fighter as it crashes, but then it was doing that before I installed Win98! Note where applicable games tested with Orchid Righteous 3D 3DFX card.