DOJ 'gets it'-- finally!!! Windows 98 is a go for '98!
The recent announcement that the Department of Justice will not challenge the integration of Internet Explorer 4 (IE4) into the soon to be released Windows 98 is a relief. Apparently wiser heads prevailed at the Antitrust Division following the recent debacle in the United States District Court in Washington. If there is one thing that this whole sorry mess has demonstrated, it is that bureaucratic lawyers, Harvard Law School professors and Article III judges are not very good at software engineering and design. The technical ignorance that underlies the injunction in the trial court will undoubtedly be corrected during the pending appeal. Further activist intervention by the Justice Department, however, could have only been a restraint on the marketplace and a curb on entrepreneurial innovation. Windows 98 will be released in the next few months and will provide the foundation for an explosion in new peripheral devices and software applications that run best on the 32-bit platform that is solidified in Windows 98. If you invest in startup companies this will be a time for careful research in the many new products that will be on the market because of the 32-bit platform of Windows 98. I have been running a beta version on my office network and I love it!!
One of the most important functional enhancements contained in Windows 98 is the ability to recognize large hard drives through what is called the FAT 32 File System. FAT 32 does not refer to the coming of middle age, but to 32 bit File Allocation Tables, the Rosetta stone of hard drive design. FAT 32 allows your PC to directly access hard drive partitions in excess of 2 gigabytes. If you have purchased a computer in the last year, it is likely that it has a large hard drive that is partitioned into 2 gigabyte segments. That is because the current version of Windows does not generally allow you to use a drive larger than that. The FAT 32 File System of Windows 98, however, does not suffer under that limitation. Since most software programs by default install on the boot drive on your computer, the 2 gigabyte limitation can become a problem if you have more than a few of those programs. While you can install those applications on other drives, it is not always wise to do so. FAT 32 simply removes the limitations. Windows 98 contains a utility that allows you to convert an existing FAT 16 drive to the expanded FAT 32 capability. When I ran that utility on one of my existing computers, it worked beautifully.
The second big change in Windows 98 is its ability to utilize the Universal Serial Bus (USB) technology that has been built into computers for the last several years. The USB connection will eliminate the need for installing boards and port pass through devices whenever you add a printer, a scanner, a modem, or some other device. The USB technology permits the full and effective use of the plug and play capabilities of Windows so that such devices will simply be plugged into the back of your computer and automatically installed by Windows. The number of devices that can be strung together on the USB Ports is virtually unlimited and as a result you can expect a boom in the use of peripheral devices. To be fair, I have had problems with my initial efforts to use USB technology but it is so new that few devices are currently available for it. Once Windows 98 becomes widespread that problem will disappear and I expect the USB technology to be of critical importance to desktop computing in the coming year.
The third most important thing that Windows 98 does is to pave the road to the widespread use of Windows NT in the office place. Until the advent of Windows 98, the transition from any version of the Windows environment into the NT environment was somewhat complicated. Windows 98 promises to make that transition relatively easy and smooth. Because Windows NT is a much stronger and safer operating system, I expect to see a rapidly increased adoption of the NT System in law offices. NT5 is just around the corner and it promises to dramatically increase networking functionality plus greatly increase system stability. It will prove attractive to law offices of all sizes, particularly now that Windows 98 allows the transition to occur smoothly.
The most obvious, and in many ways the best, changes wrought by Windows 98 are in the user interface and enhanced utilities that allow basic computer maintenance routines to be automated and simplified. In previous columns, I have described the interface enhancements brought about by the integration of IE4 into the Windows Operating System. Those enhancements make it enormously easier to move around between various applications and the integration of Internet access into the desktop environment is powerful and seamless. The changes in the Desktop interface also impact the functionality of all Windows applications on your machine. They too will operate more smoothly and securely. There are some subtle but very useful enhancements to things like the way identification boxes pop up when the mouse cursor is placed over an icon and the smoothness with which the drag and drop capabilities of Windows can be executed. Most importantly, when the desktop information manager Outlook 98 is run on the Windows 98 platform there is a huge increase in functionality.
This is the first complete integration of office information systems and the Internet and it has a very, very bright future. Outlook 98 will be released in final form around the time you read this column. It is a wonderful advancement in information integration and online communication that brings closer than ever the dream of the information technology in the office. You don?t need Windows 98 to run Outlook 98 but the combination is beyond wonder. And, in a typical Microsoft promotion, Outlook 98 will be a free download for the next 90 days. Just go to http://www.microsoft.com/outlook around April 1. You will also be able to buy the CD for ten bucks, which is an even better deal because the CD has some enhancements that will be useful to you.
Windows 98 will be out in final release in a few months. All in all, this is a terrific upgrade that ought to encourage offices that have resisted moving to the 32-bit computing environment because of the complicated transition costs to take this modest step down the road to NT5. The upgrade will certainly cost very little and while its installation in an entire office may involve some not insignificant cost, that cost will be dramatically less than it would have been under the Windows 95 regime. After all, in year or so we will all be using NT operating systems in our offices and homes.
And thank you DOJ for keeping your laws off my PC!