Win with Win 95 – Microsoft Windows 95 – includes related articles – Software Review – Evaluation
Never have so many waited so long for a single software product. While you’ve spent the past year building your business, computer geeks and corporate MIS managers have been debating the merits of Microsoft’s new Windows 95 operating system, checking out its test versions, and pondering its implications. Like it or not, now it’s your turn to make a decision.
If you’re about to buy a new PC, chances are you’ll find Windows 95 already installed. Your big decision is how best to find out about all the myriad new features Windows 95 has to offer. Here, we explain the power waiting at your fingertips.
If you aren’t planning on buying a new system, when and why you upgrade from Windows 3.1 could have serious implications for your business. To take advantage of Windows 95, you may have to add memory and hard-drive space to your PC–something that will cost you considerably more than the operating system’s $109 list price.
And no matter which route you take to Windows 95, in the end the decisions of most software developers will force you to adopt the new operating system. Companies such as Software Publishing and Corel have publicly stated that after the end of this year, they will only develop new programs for Windows 95. Although you can expect to struggle through the hassles and cost of significant software upgrades, application developers promise significantly easier-to-use and better behaving programs.
The pages that follow show you how the face-lift makes Windows 95 a whole lot easier to work with than Windows 3.1 and how the new structure under the pretty face solves such mundane Windows 3.1 problems as out-of-memory er-rors that rob your day-to-day productivity. We’ll show you how Windows 95 will affect your hardware and your software-say goodbye to hours lost trying to install a new piece of equipment or getting applications to work together. We’ll also take a peek at Microsoft’s new online service, the Microsoft Network, which is bundled with Windows 95. Microsoft hopes that by making it easier to go online, you’ll find yourself spending more time in their Entrepreneur Center. Finally, you’ll get our assessment of who needs to upgrade to Windows 95 immediately–and who’s better off waiting a few months.
The New Look
Now: Windows 95
The first thing you see in the new Windows is a cleaner desktop that adds more than simple cosmetic improvements:
A. Replacing Windows 3.1’s antiquated Program Manager, the Task Bar’s Start button accesses programs, applications, and setup options. But why is Shut Down under Start?
B. Mac-like folders within folders make organizing individual applications easier Eliminating the windows metaphor in favor of Apple’s file folder design suggests the name Folders 95.
C. Drag and drop gets serious. To delete a file, drag it to the Recycle Bin. To add a program to the Start menu, drag its icon from your desktop to the Start button.
D. Need quick access to an individual report, spreadsheet, or illustration? Place it on the desktop with a direct link to its software application.
Underneath Windows 95’s new interface lie the meat-and-potatoes technical changes to die operating system that will make your work days more productive. Like new plumbing, the changes aren’t visible–except in their results.
Juggling Dally Chores For those who don’t have the time to waste waiting for a long document to print before they can get back to work doing research on America Online or editing a project proposal, Windows 95 finally offers some relief It can now handle multiple tasks simultaneously. Earlier versions of Windows simply put one task on hold while another job was completed. Windows 95’s true multitasking now enables you to download a news story from an online service while you print out a spreadsheet and spell-check a pitch letter.
One caveat here: Trying to juggle several tasks at once slows your system to a crawl unless you have a fast 486DX4 or Pentium PC. The number of programs you can run concurrently also depends on what kind of demands each job requires. In one instance, we exhausted a 486DX4 PC by having nine applications open. In other cases, we managed to juggle 20 programs on the same system without any snags. Just remember that to comfortably conduct such a symphony of office applications, you’ll generally need to buy newer software written specifically for Windows 95.
Fewer Work Stoppages You’ve probably found that Windows 3.1 dies when,you attempt to run too many programs at once. When one application brings down Windows, you’ve lost all the unsaved work you were doing in other open applications.
Using more efficient memory management and multitasking abilities, the more surefooted Windows 95 can prevent a single misbehaving program from bringing the rest of your system to its knees.
Although older Windows 3.1 and DOS applications can still crash Windows 95, they are the same problematic programs that typically crash Windows 3.1. Unfortunately, you’ll have to rely on these old programs until Windows 95 versions are available and you can afford to upgrade. For the most part, Windows 95 can shut down disruptive Windows 3.1 programs and leave other programs containing vital information undisturbed. Expect to spend less time recovering from system crashes and re-entering lost data.
Maximize Your Hardware investment Supposedly, deep under the hood of Windows 95 lies a base of 32-bit instructions that should take advantage of the latent potential in your 32-bit 486- and Pentium-based systems. In theory, this added efficiency means Win 95 can do more with faster computers.
In anecdotal tests, however, we found that older applications were often 3 to I 0 percent faster under Windows 3. 1. When we switched to newer prerelease versions of the same applications written specifically for Windows 95, the Windows 95 system closed the performance gap. In general, however, real speed increases won’t arrive until newer software is developed that caters to Windows 95’s specific talents. When new software hits retail shelves, it will find an operating system designed to take full advantage of your existing PC.
If you’ve spent hours wasting time with the voodoo rituals of resolving esoteric IRQ conflicts or playing with tiny jumper pins on expansion cards, Win 95 will give you a better way to install a new sound board or scanner.
It Works, You Work Designed to offer what Macintosh owners have enjoyed for years, Windows 95’s new Plug and Play feature is a group of specifications for internal and external components that requires such devices to identify themselves to the computer–rather than you identifying them for the computer. Windows 95 will immediately recognize Plug and Play-capable sound cards, fax/modems, printers, and monitors, and it will resolve any potential conflicts between components. If it cannot fix the problem, it will tell you what to do or ask you for the manufacturer’s installation software.
The downside to Plug and Play is that the PC you have right now will probably not be able to take full advantage of this feature. For Windows 95 to recognize what’s plugged into your computer, the individual cards and external devices have to be compatible, but only newer components that have a “Designed for Microsoft Windows 95” logo are Plug and Play compliant. If you’re buying a new system, it’s a tremendous improvement–reason enough to insist that Windows 95 be preloaded on your new machine–although those users upgrading older PCs may have to struggle for a while.
Windows 95 With Existing Hardware Still, you needn’t run out and buy new expansion boards and peripherals just to satisfy Windows 95. Although one installation on a year-and-a-half-old 66MHz 486DX2-based computer took four hours, in the end we found that most of our old hardware still worked with the new operating system. During the installation process, the software hunts for all the basic components connected to your PC. On the older 486DX2 computer, the program did not recognize our NEC 4FGe monitor, but it did correctly identify the system’s network card and Cirrus Logic video adapter. Even though it couldn’t tell what monitor we were using, we were able to select a built-in setting for the 4FGe, and it correctly detected our external Practical Peripherals PC288LCD VFC modem.
Microsoft has also included underlying changes in Windows 95 that will show up in your applications.
Find Your File Under DOS and Windows 3. 1, file names lacked a degree of comprehensibility because they were limited to the eight-plus-three character format (for example, NOT-THIS.ONE). Keeping track of clients and projects often became an effort in cryptography. Things will get easier with Windows 95’s new long file names feature. With up to 255 characters, you can create such file monikers as “Davey Jones, Underwater Mall Project.” Unfortunately, only programs written specifically for Windows 95 recognize these new names. Windows 3.1 applications running under Windows 95 still only recognize the old format. To remain compatible with these programs, Windows 95 automatically assigns each document a shorter eight-plus-three sobriquet.
Be careful when transferring files to a floppy disk. Whenever a file is copied onto a new disk, Windows 95 uses the old eight-plus-three style 11-character alias. Copy it back to your PC and you’re back to deciphering cryptic file names and managing versions of documents in the dark.
Updating Data Sharing information between different applications, like adding a Lotus 1-2-3 chart to a Word for Windows document, has traditionally caused headaches. Change the Lotus file, and you had to update the Word document as well. Now, using a feature introduced in Windows 3.1 called OLE 2.0, Windows 95 will share information between applications and automatically update files and documents containing the same information. Although you’ll need to upgrade to newer programs written specifically for Windows 95 to take advantage of this feature, it should make creating dynamic documents a lot easier.
Windows 95 With Existing Software We threw a raft of older programs at Windows 95, ranging from odd Windows communications programs to ancient DOS word processors. Windows 95 worked with nearly all of them. DOS programs were sometimes slower, but by and large, things worked as they should.
Expect troubles, however, with earlier antivirus, memory management, backup, or utility software. Since Windows 95 includes its own basic backup program and utility software (and largely does away with memory problems), you won’t have to spend money on upgrading these applications right away.
Microsoft Goes Online
One of the most controversial additions to Windows 95 is software that connects you to the company’s new online service, the Microsoft Network (MSN).
The main attraction of MSN is that it’s designed to look and feel like the rest of Windows 95. In fact, it is so tightly coupled with the operating system’s mailbox, text editor, and address book, that you can easily forget you’re running up online charges–for $4.95 the first three hours in a month, $2.50 for each hour thereafter.
MSN integration with the rest of Windows 95 means you can create direct links between documents and the service. By dragging and dropping an item from MSN into a financial plan,for example, you can later update the information at the click of a button. Microsoft leverages this feature later this fall when it releases new CD-ROM titles that offer updates through MSN.
MSN includes basic online services, such as e-mail, updated news, and chat forums, but it has a long way to go before it catches up to the content its competitors currently provide. MSN doesn’t offer its own Internet Web browser, for example. You’ll have to pay another $50 for Microsoft Plus!, which includes a browser as well as screensavers and other Windows 95 gimcracks. Rival systems America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy still have the upper hand in terms of depth of overall content, but MSN may attract a new crowd as it expands its offerings.
MSN’s initial offerings include a United Parcel Post location where customers can order a pickup and cheek packages in transit. Its Entrepreneur Center looks like a promising site to network. HOME OFFICE COMPUTING Will participate on MSN.
Whether or not they keep their accounts longer than a few weeks, millions of users will no doubt be checking out Microsoft’s online foray by the end of the year. 9
RELATED ARTICLE: Then: Windows 3.1
A reminder of how clutterd Windows 3.1’s interface can get:
1. Confused? You might be. What do all those program groups and icons mean in Program Manager? And how are they different from those application icons at the bottom of the screen?
2. Accessing Help via a drop-down menu seems antiquated once you’ve come to expect assistance at the click of the right mouse button anywhere on a Windows 95 screen.
3. Let’s see. File, Delete, and then click on some buttons to confirm delections. Windows 3.1 desperately needed a better a way to clean out directories.
4. In Windows 3.1 hunting down errant files in File Manager required switching between different windows. Windows 95’s My Computer icon simplifies your search by divulging each drive’s contents under its icon.
RELATED ARTICLE: Is Today’s PC Enough?
Where you want to go today may be a computer store for a faster system. If you’re planning to install Windows 95 on your existing PC, carefully consider that unit’s capabilities. According to Microsoft, the minimum system requirements for Windows 95 are a 386DX CPU with at least 4MB of RAM and 35MB of free hard-disk space. But Windows 95 is simply too darn slow on a 386. What’s more, to properly use the Microsoft Network software, you have to own a 486-based computer with 8MB of RAM. Even if you don’t want to go online, the $50 Microsoft Plus! package of screensavers and Internet Web access programs still requires a minimum of a 486.
In addition, consider how much storage space you have free on your PC. If you already have, say, 200MB worth of client files on your computer and you don’t want to use a data compression program, it could take more than 50MB of additional hard-disk space to fully install Windows 95. Once you’ve installed the new operating system, you’ll likely want to hold on to older applications while you install new ones–a process that will require even more hard-disk room. Our test installations also revealed that unlike Windows 3.1, Windows 95 is able to take better advantage of more system memory. So for optimum performance, make sure you have 16MB of RAM.
RELATED ARTICLE: Bare Essentials: Bundled Applications in Windows 95
Windows 95’s bundled applications include updates on Windows 3.1 standbys. Each can be found under the program menu on the start button.
Since most new PCs come with a fax/modem, Microsoft now includes a mini-tax program. It’s not WinFax, but MS Fax lets you compose fax messages or design a cover sheet.
Presaging the telephony applications to come, Windows 95’s rudimentary Phone Dialer dials voice numbers, logs calls, remembers eight speed-dial numbers, and bills to a calling card.
A very basic text-only communications package for hooking up to bulletin boards and downloading e-mail, HyperTerminal includes three simple connect scripts for AT&T Mail, CompuServe, and MCI Mail. It’s better than Windows 3.1’s Terminal, but not by much.
Until you go out and buy a Windows 95–compatible, full-featured backup program, Microsoft’s new Backup utility could save your business from disaster with full or partial backups.
A cross between Windows 3.1’s Write and some features of Word for Windows, WordPad replaces Windows 3.1’s Notepad. There are font choices and other simple tools, but it’s only for the simplest word processing tasks.
With Windows 95 eating up harddisk space, you can use the DriveSpace compression utility. It shows you the amount of free disk space, reads DriveSpace compressed floppies, and lets you adjust compression ratios.
Replacing Windows 3.1’s Music Box, CD Player has all the same functions (with added CD+ disc support), and all the same problems. Close the CD Player application and it still shuts off the music.
RELATED ARTICLE: Wait Till 96 to Move to 95?
If you’re buying a new system with Windows 95 preinstalled, you should dive in and start using the new operating system. You’ll just need to upgrade your applications as they become available.
However, if you’re happy with your current computer setup, should you upgrade now or hold off until later? People considering an upgrade to Windows 95 should be wary. Those of us who use our computers as receptionist, filing clerk, word processing department, accountant, and more already have programs that work fine. Until Windows 95 has been in the market for a few more months, there’s no guarantee it will work with all your critical applications. It’s also important to consider that among the potential headaches you could suffer by upgrading too soon is costly help. Microsoft only offers free technical phone support for Windows 95 for 90 days after your first call. After that, you’ll have to pay $1.95 per minute, up to $35 per call.
If your current situation already includes daily application crashes, out-of-memory messages, and worst of all, Windows 3.1 coming to its knees, perhaps you need to nake the switch. Unfortunately, it’ll cost money, and your headaches will remain for a few months. But over time, Windows 95 will alleviate more of your old problems rather than create new ones.
Just remember that when you finally face that fateful upgrade day, back up everything before installing Windows 95.
JOHN QUAIN has been struggling with and writing about technology for more than 12 years. He is a frequent contributor to HOME OFFICE COMPUTING.
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