Wait and see as each new OS arrives

January 31, 2000|By Bill Husted | Bill Husted,Cox News Service

Back when I started messing with computers, I thought operating systems -- the software that literally tells a computer how to be a computer -- were fascinating. But I had a propeller on my hat, was shunned by right-thinking people and was generally considered to be lost in a fantasy world.

I would wait for the new version of MS-DOS, the operating system I used in those days, with the same anticipation and hope that normal people felt as they waited for the next great movie. Regular people looked at me funny.

So, I'm more surprised than most that operating systems now are considered to be big news by average folk. When Microsoft brings out a new version of Windows, newspapers and television devote the sort of attention that used to be paid to dictators, rock stars and moon landings.

Instead of making things easier for consumers, all the hype has made it more difficult. Should you upgrade from Windows 95 to 98? Should you be the first in line to buy Windows 2000 when it comes out? Or should you wait for the next consumer-grade edition of Windows, called Millennium?

Windows 2000 -- which is priced for and aimed at the business user -- will be out next month. Millennium, which will replace Windows 98, won't be far behind.

Let's take a look at operating systems to make sense of what you should do, when to replace your old system and when to stand pat.

First, the headlines.

For those of you running Windows 95: Upgrade now. Windows 98 is less likely to crash, uses memory better and does a better job of protecting your security online.

If you have Windows 98: Stand pat for a while. Don't upgrade immediately to Millennium or Windows 2000. Let the bugs crawl out of the woodwork first.

Now, the details.

Windows 95 is showing its age. Even with the dozens of software upgrades and patches that can be found and downloaded for free at www.microsoft.com, you will see an improvement in almost all areas by moving to Windows 98. With the Windows 98 Upgrade disc you won't lose any of your data or programs; the icons and commands don't change substantially, so there is little confusion involved.

Windows 98 is a relatively stable operating system. If you buy a copy, make sure the box says Second Edition, because considerable improvements have been made since 98 was created. Then, once you've installed it, use the built-in upgrade feature that automatically takes you to the Microsoft Web site and installs any software fixes and patches. Even with the Second Edition there are important upgrades, including three or four that help patch holes in the security it provides while you are online. To use the built-in upgrade feature, click on the Start button and click on the Upgrade menu item while connected to the Internet.

I've used yet-to-be-released versions of Windows in beta. Beta versions aren't complete and have bugs that will be fixed before the versions hit the shelves, but they offer a good picture of what the product will be like.

Millennium has nifty new features. It automates some file repair tasks and is generally just as fast and (once it moves out of beta) will be more reliable. But there's no rush (besides, it's not on the market yet). When it becomes available, wait at least a month before installing it.

Windows 2000 is aimed at the high-end user, not those with home computers. But it's my guess that many of the new and powerful computers will come with it as a preinstalled option. I think that, because 2000 is built on Windows' almost bulletproof NT technology, it will be important to both businesses and home users. But if you are running Windows 98, you have the option of watching and waiting once it's on the market.

That's my best advice: Wait and see. As strange as it feels, because I loved 'em before it was cool, I suggest not getting too eager when it comes to new operating systems.

Windows 2000 -- which is priced for and aimed at the business user -- will be out next month. Millennium, which will replace Windows 98, won't be far behind.

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