Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Software Reviews


Windows 98 - Up Close and Personal
Product Review by Dunc Petrie

Your erstwhile editor sacrificed himself and upgraded to Windows 98. My experiences to date relate to my own machine: a hot - well, it was when I bought it - Pentium 166, 64 MB memory with an ASUS motherboard and the FX chipset. Initially, I upgraded over Windows 95 but then decided to "clean house" and install to a freshly formatted hard drive. Now, there are pros and cons to each approach. The upgrade is less time consuming since you do not have to reinstall all your applications; conversely, it may allow a lot of unnecessary baggage to remain. 

Installation

This installation is certainly smoother and faster. There were many fewer questions to answer; Windows 98 Setup has automated most of the hardware detection and for me it was flawless. As a test, I turned on my vintage scanner with a proprietary pseudo-SCSI card; Windows 98 detected it and installed its driver! Under Windows 95, I was on my own. 

Windows 98 is supposed to be faster and more stable. I have not noticed any speed differences - mind you, I did not time everything with a stopwatch. Suffice to say that it is not noticeably slower! Crashes: Windows 95 did on occasion. Windows 98 itself has crashed much less frequently; however, I notice that the Windows 95 crash-prone applications still crash on occasion while running under Windows 98. On the plus side, they rarely dragged Windows 98 down with them. Check the web sites for your applications; there are many Windows 98 upgrades available. 

I have deactivated the Active Desktop and Webcasting. This might be useful if you are a Microsoft Network client. I am not; "Nuff said!" Anyway, tradition dies hard. 

Yes, I installed FAT 32. I was not desperate for hard drive space; however, I believe that the future is here and I might as well adjust. Yes, it does promote efficiency (smaller clusters) although I can't determine if it is faster or slower. Regarding stability: well, it has not crashed - yet! To be fair, any drive will crash; the correct question is "when" not "if" and the FAT version is not relevant. I feel more secure running FAT 32 than I did while experimenting with drive compression (Stacker, DoubleSpace or DriveSpace). 

Problems?

Yes, there are reports of problems: indeed, horror stories; however, that has not been my experience. Apparently, there are problems with some applications (these are third party reports and not my personal experiences) including: Office 95 or earlier, Photoshop 4.x and some plug-ins for it, and some development packages. For those anticipating upgrading a Stacker compressed drive - don't remove the compression before upgrading. 

Many applications will run better with the latest version; often, these are free downloads from the company's web site. In particular, upgrade utilities (for example: Norton Utilities, Nuts and Bolts, or First Aid) to make them FAT 32 aware. Virus checkers and backup programs are other potential problems. 

Given the wide choice of backup media available, I was disappointed that Windows 98 backup module (licensed from Seagate Software) supports only QIC 80 devices - support for removable media (Zip drive) would have been a nice touch. Seagate apparently offers an all the "bells and whistles" upgrade if you are willing to pay. 

I have no new hardware (for example, USB, AGP, or notebook power management) and cannot comment from personal experience. Out-takes from others suggest that USB enjoys improved support; most of the problems reported under Windows 95 are history. I gather AGP is disappointing for some; however, this may be merely a question of software drivers for a new technology (similar to USB's problems running under Windows 95). 

The Windows 95 Tweak UI has been upgraded; the new version is on the upgrade CD-ROM. (I don't know about OEM versions.) The other Powertoys, from Windows 95, remain functional. Microsoft's policy remains unchanged: while Powertoys and Tweak UI are in-house creations, they are not officially supported. 

VCM

One nagging problem that you may experience: the Version Conflict Manager (VCM) is a utility to track disabled files and provide a way to restore earlier file versions. Unfortunately, Windows 98 Setup gives no notice the files are changed. If Win 98's Setup detects a more recent shared file from a competitor then Setup relocates the file - that is, disables it. Windows 98 installs the older "Windows 98 shipping" version of the same file into the proper location. Microsoft claims that this will establish a common baseline operating system; practically, the bottom line is applications don't work. [An aside: your editor's attempt at humour - rumour has it that Microsoft has posters stating: "The job's not done until the competitors' software won't run."] Frequent victims are: TWAIN.DLL, Version 1.6.0.3 replaced by 1.6.0.1; MSCONV97.DLL, Version 1997.4.2 replaced by 1997.3.12; and W95INF32.DLL, Version 4.71.17 by 4.71.16. 

VCM is only turned on during Windows 98 install; then it ceases to monitor the system. A subsequent third-party installation that causes a problem will not activate it. If you experience problems immediately after the Windows 98 Setup routine check VCM: click Start… Programs… Accessories… System Tools… System Information… Tools… Version Conflict Manager to determine if any shared files were changed. It should show the names and version numbers of any modified files. 

Office 97

If you elect the clean install and you own Office 97 you may experience a bizarre problem when you attempt to perform the Service Patch 1 upgrade. Windows 98 incorporates a utility called SpeedLoad. This utility rearranges the application files on the hard drive to speed the loading process. By default, this feature is activated in Windows 98. (As an aside, Norton Utilities has a similar program called Norton Optimization Wizard. I suspect that this utility might trigger the same result.) While rearranging the file module order on the hard drive does speed loading the application, the Office 97 patch, in contrast, expects to find various modules of code in a specific relationship. SpeedLoad has usurped this relationship; the patch will fail! To avoid this problem you must disable - temporarily, at least - SpeedLoad (suggestion: rename the executable, C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM\WALIGN.EXE) before you install Office 97 and the subsequent patch. Once the patch has been applied, SpeedLoad can be re-enabled. If you were caught already then you must uninstall Office 97, disable SpeedLoad and reinstall Office 97. 

Plus Pack

I also opted to obtain the Windows 98 Plus! Pack. Although I am not a gamer, rave notices about Lose Your Marbles have been posted by several trade writers. For those who enjoy CD music while you work, the Deluxe CD Player has also received good grades. If you are entering the world of image editing, Microsoft has included a lite version of Picture-It. (Windows already includes a version of Wang/Kodak's Imaging utility that I believe has similar capabilities; pay your money and make your choice.) I was mainly interested in the McAfee Virus Scan package to upgrade an older engine. While an upgrade is an option, if you consider only the direct cost plus exchange rates (download from the web site) then the rest of the Plus! Pack is a freebie. The Windows 95 Plus! Pack screen savers are now part of the Windows 98 upgrade package (OEM?). Plus! Pack 98 has several new themes for those who want a change of scenery. 

Upgrading the upgrades

Despite the "just released" status of Windows 98 there are already several upgrades. The Microsoft Intellimouse (with the scrolling wheel) has a software upgrade. Windows 98 included a driver; however, this offered no significant new features. The upgrade will add the scrolling feature to most applications instead of the limited array at present. 

Hilgraeve is offering a free upgrade for the version of HyperTerminal that shipped with Windows 98. It promises a number of improvements and a few bug fixes. I use it infrequently and have had no problems; however, the price is right. 

Multimedia

The multimedia arena is primed for several updates. Windows 98 shipped with DirectX, Version 5. Direct X is a series of system utilities that run in the background to support multimedia (for example: motion video, 3D, sound, joysticks). Microsoft has posted DirectX, Version 6 for download (about 1.6 MB) from its web site. There is also a Windows 95 version, I believe. Other upgrades or add-ins scheduled to appear include: Media Player (incorporated into Internet Explorer 4), more fonts (primarily for the Web), Microsoft Chat 2.5, and WebTV Guide. 

Microsoft release these individually or as an upgrade. They hesitate to use "Service Pack" as the description; however, some bug fixes will be incorporated. No release date is announced; internally, Microsoft is "aiming" for late August or September 98. 

Explorer

One bug that certainly deserves extinction is the Explorer file deletion bug. If you navigate quickly among different folders (directories) while deleting files in some folders, it is possible that the wrong files would be deleted since Explorer has not recorded the folder changes accurately. 


Bottom Line:

Proprietary package from Microsoft Corporation
$125.00
Web Site: http://www.microsoft.com/windows98/default.asp


Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

The opinions expressed in these reviews may not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.
Original HTML coding for this page provided by Alan German
Page updated: 26-Aug-98