OS UPDATE - Part 1


by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, August 1998


This article contains an update on the latest operating system issues. The most obvious operating system happening is the recent release of Windows 98 by Microsoft. It will be loaded on most new computers and, of course, is available as an upgrade to either Windows 95 or Windows 3.x.

I had great hopes for Win 98 as the salvation for my clients who are drowning in Win 95 bugs. Microsoft even reported to the national press that Win 98 would fix more than 5,000 outstanding bugs in Win 95. (I’m sure the marketing braniac who thought of this sales tactic - "Buy our new product because our old one stinks" - is probably now assigned to an assembly line putting Win 98 CDs into boxes.) There was no mention of either the ethics of having released an operating system with 5,000 bugs in the first place or what the original bug count was when Win 95 was released. Since Win 95 is already in its second major release (and God and Bill Gates only know how many unmarked slipstream releases), and, there are bug-fixing Service Packs available for it, the original bug count could logically be assumed to have been way more than the currently admitted 5,000.
My hopes, alas, are not to be realized. Front page articles in the national press are already reporting difficulties with Win 98. Many computer manufacturers are issuing warning of disastrous consequences for those using Win 98 on various models of their computers. Some corporations are forbidding Win 98 upgrades and are even erasing the hard disks of new computers equipped with pre-installed Win 98 and installing Win 95 in its place.
As you might guess with the release of a new desktop operating system, the more proprietary the computer, the more likely it is to run into hardware interfacing bugs. Since notebook computers are almost 100% proprietary, they are the ones getting hit with the most problems. In some cases the problems are so severe that you simply can’t run Win 98. In most cases, manufacturers are scrambling to create and distribute patches.
For desktop computers, hardware interface related bugs are appearing in direct proportion to the degree of uniqueness in the hardware. This, by the way, is one of the reasons that I recommend that any purchase of new computer equipment include some type of "percentage of proprietariness" rating as part of the evaluation, with major deductions in the overall rating given for using potentially incompatible, proprietary subsystems when they aren’t really necessary.
This is especially true given that the performance figures that I’ve seen on proprietary systems such as RAID arrays, disk controllers, and network cards indicate that commonly available aftermarket products (that is not purchased from the computer manufacturer) usually outperform the manufacturers’ products, often at a lower cost. I will hedge my bets on this piece of advice (translation: weasel out) by stating that, obviously, these types of performance comparisons aren’t the only things to think about when planning a purchase, and, even then, should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
In addition to the hardware interface bugs in Win 98, there are many other non-hardware-related bugs being reported, including bugs in new machines and as well as upgraded ones. Disabling other vendors’ DLL files is one outrageous reported bug that is really a reprehensible design decision, not actually a bug. It harks back to the old days when the alleged motto for DOS developers at Microsoft was "It’s not done until it blows up Lotus 123." The spontaneous lockups caused by Internet Explorer, however, are the bugs that shocked me the most.
My pre-release impression of Win 98 was that it was mostly a giant bug-fix for Win 95 that, ethically speaking, should have been offered as a free download, not as a paid upgrade. The only feature that seemed to be much of an advance over the latest release of Win95 was the finalization of the integration of Internet Explorer with the operating system, a process which started in later versions of Win 95. This is the main issue currently under dispute in legal action by the Justice Department against Microsoft. It is ironic that this advancement, the one feature most publicized by Microsoft in general and Bill Gates, in particular, is one of the major causes of bugs for Win 98. You’d think that they would at least make sure the most bragged about feature really worked
Now for the really bad news - Microsoft has officially declared that no Service Packs are currently being planned for Win 98! I know Microsoft has earned a bad reputation for being unresponsive in the past, but this is getting really blatant. I guess its attitude is now "You will not only pay for this bug fix, but you’ll have to put up with new bugs, too!"
That sound you hear in the background sounds suspiciously like the plaintive bleating of sheep being led to slaughter. Tune in next month to see if Babe (the pig not the baseball player) can be recruited by the Justice Department as a prosecutor to help protect us sheep. Baaaaaa!

�1998, Wayne M. Krakau