Should you stick with the devil you know, or upgrade to Windows 98? That's the question a lot of Windows 95 users have been asking themselves over the past few months. Now that it is here you have the chance to actually do something about it though if you're about to buy a PC it may not be an option. From now on virtually all new PCs will come with the Windows 98 as standard, but what about the rest of us?

There is no simple answer, for many PC users Windows 98 has genuine advantages, for others it could be the start of a long, horrible nightmare… This week we'll take a brief look at the highlights and pitfalls, in part two we'll run through the installation and set-up procedures.

First the basics. Windows 98, like Windows 95, is a PC operating system, a sophisticated piece of software that controls the way a PC works, provides a platform for other programs and a user-friendly mouse-clicking interface for you. According to the blurb the minimum configuration for Windows 98 is a PC with a 486 or faster processor, 16Mb of RAM and 195Mb of free hard disc space. Roughly translated that means don't bother unless you've got a moderately fast Pentium at least (133MHz plus). 16Mb RAM is an absolute minimum -- you'll need 32Mb for comfort -- and if you want to be on the safe side make sure you have at least 400 to 500 megabytes of free space on your hard drive.

The Windows 98 upgrade disc is currently selling for around £60 - £70. In the scheme of things that's not an unreasonable price for such a large and sophisticated lump of software, so we're off to a fairly good start. Unlike the change from Windows 3.x to Windows 95 you won't have to learn any new tricks. Windows 95 and 98 are very similar in appearance and all of your existing icons, shortcuts, desktop settings and sounds are preserved in the changeover. There's plenty of extra bits and bobs, and it has borrowed a lot of features from the Internet, but most of them can be ignored, or hidden so that everything looks and feels reassuringly familiar.

If you install Windows 98, hate it, or something goes wrong during or after the installation, then you should be able to return to your original Windows 95 set-up, provided you allow the installation program to make the necessary backup files. That's the theory anyway...

There is a point of no return however. When the installation has finished Windows 98 will ask you if you want to reorganise your hard disc drive. Don't panic, it's not compulsory, you can say no or do it later. This option changes the way files are stored on the disc drive. The system used on Windows 3.x and the original release of Windows 95 is called FAT 16 (see jargon filter). This is quite wasteful of space and there are problems with hard drives 2Gb or larger. Later versions of Windows 95 and Windows 98 use the more efficient FAT 32 system. If you decide to convert it will almost certainly claw back several tens, possibly hundreds of megabytes of wasted space on your drive. It should also mean that some programs open and run faster. However, once you have converted to FAT 32 you can't go back…

The most obvious difference between Windows 95 and 98 is the extensive use of Internet-style browser windows. Internet access is a core feature and Internet Explorer 4 is installed on your machine whether you like it or not. It shouldn't affect your existing Internet software, unless you want to replace it. Windows utilities have a more uniform appearance and most of them contain extra, helpful information but the familiar elements -- icons and menus -- remain the same. There are hypertext links all over the place, (highlighted and underlined key words), and if you click on them Explorer will try to dial up an Internet connection. This can be annoying, especially if your PC isn't connected to the Internet, so be careful where you point your mouse! The good news is that existing software on the PC is unaffected by the change.

Future proofing could be a big selling point for Windows 98. It supports a wide range of hardware and software developments, including USB and FireWire interfaces, for the next generation of peripherals and digital devices. It is ready and waiting for Web TV services, there are many multimedia enhancements, to make games run faster, and there's the facility to use two or more monitors.

Microsoft is claiming that Windows 98 is more stable than its predecessor and on the evidence so far that seems to be the case. A lot of bugs have been fixed (there were more than 3,000 apparently), moreover the new software comes with advanced diagnostic and problem-solving utilities. It also has a very useful disk cleanup program, to get rid of unused or unwanted files, and you can schedule overnight disk defragging, to keep files in good order. However, no one is guaranteeing a smooth ride and there are plenty of early adopters with tales of woe to tell. The trouble is there's no easy way to predict how a particular machine will behave. If your PC has long-standing conflicts or glitches that conventional trouble-shooting techniques and cleanup software have failed to sort out, and you're reaching the end of your tether, Windows 98 could be worth trying.

On balance Windows 98 appears to be a genuine improvement over Windows 95. If you're about to buy a new PC it is definitely worth having. As for existing users, the jury is still out. If your machine is getting a bit wheezy, the hard disc is filling up and you're experiencing more frequent crashes it might solve some problems. It does a lot of things better than Windows 95 and there are lots of new toys to play with; dabblers and fiddlers are going to love it. However, if your present machine is behaving itself and meeting all of your present needs then the devil you know is still your safest bet, for a while longer.




File allocation table, the part of a PCs disc system that decides how and where disc storage space is allocated

FIREWIRE -- (aka IEEE1394)

A high speed communications link for connecting PCs to digital video and audio devices


Universal serial bus, new industry standard connection system for peripherals (modems, joysticks printers etc) that does away with confusing technicalities and allows 'hot swaps', allowing connection and disconnection with the PC switched on



The right button on your mouse can do some interesting tricks when you're looking at Internet web pages. Click anywhere on the page and you'll see a number of options. The most useful one is to add the address of current page to your favourite list. If you come across a background design, that you'd like to use as wallpaper on your desktop, right click on the pattern and choose the Set as Wallpaper option. Selecting Copy Background puts the image into the clipboard memory, so you can import it into a graphics program, or it can be filed away, as a .gif or ,jpg image, in the file or folder of your choice, using the Save Background As… option.

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