What Mac can learn from Win 98

I find myself in a odd position. You see, I actually like Windows 98.

I find myself in a odd position. You see, I actually like Windows 98. Do I like it more than the Mac OS? Don't be silly, I'm not drunk. Windows is still crude in ways that it should not be and frustrating in ways that the world's most successful software company should have fixed long ago. I don't even like Windows 98 more than UNIX, and we all know what a pain-in-the-ass UNIX can be (unless you've been using it for thirty years like me).

But there's one thing that I do like about Windows 98 that neither the Mac OS, nor UNIX, nor any other OS can provide: Internet integration.

Call me crazy (and I am sure many of you will) but I like the Active Desktop, Internet Explorer 4 and Outlook Express and the way they hook into the Windows 98's desktop. I find this interface integration among key OS functions quite intuitive.

So, here I am. In the very odd position of asserting the likeability of Windows 98's interface to my Mac brethren even as my pal John Dvorak (he of the former anti-editor status at the late lamented MacUser) is lambasting it as nothing more than an overpriced bug fix (See story).

As John notes, "I don't see any compelling reason to buy Windows 98 except for the bug fixes...", plus its USB support, which John knows can also be had with a Windows 95 patch.

And when John takes on Microsoft for selling buggy software to its customers even as it adds on piles of new features, I can't say I disagree. In a perfect world, Windows 95 ought to have its bugs fixed without costing customers the price of a Windows 98 upgrade. But the computer industry is not a perfect world.

Unfortunately, the "Win98 as expensive bug fix" argument neglects the paradigm-shifting Active Desktop-driven interface.

While you may hate Active Desktop, its hard to ignore. And while you can get much of its Windows 98 functionality for free by patching it into Windows 95, you don't get the same level of interface nicety.

Whether that nicety is worth a hundred bucks is certainly debatable, but many Windows customers won't pay that. They'll simply trade-in their old, slow Pentium PC for a Pentium II screamer and get Win98 as part of that bargain. Just as happened when Windows 95 first shipped.

Of course, pure Macfolk don't have to worry about Windows 98. Or do they?

With Active Desktop, Win98 delivers on the kind of Internet integration that Apple promised iterations ago with its Mac OS (remember OpenDoc and CyberDog?), but failed to deliver. That's bad for Apple, because it will be seen as yet another avenue of Apple innovation co-opted away by Microsoft. And that's bad for Apple customers who worry about the future beyond the current quarters' profits.

Fortunately, the good guys have an easy answer for Windows 98. It's called Allegro, or Mac OS 8.2, which ships this summer. With its own interface, information search and retrieval, online help, Web, networking, and reliability improvements Apple can easily blunt the "Microsoft beat you to the punch again" criticism that will fly.

But only if Apple gets that message out now.


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