Concern over Windows 98

As Microsoft scrambles to get its first service pack ready for Windows 98, consumers, analysts and technology vendors alike are united in their concern over the company's failure to produce a reliable product.

As reported last week several vendors, including Compaq and Dell, have issued warnings on their Web sites about Windows 98 and potential conflicts leaving Microsoft UK confused about their partners' actions.

David Weeks product manager for Windows 98 denied any serious problems with the operating system, claiming most of the reported problems were due to "issues that arose because drivers that weren't available could not be included in final code". One of these "issues" involves technology giant Philips which, according to the New Scientist last week, warned that users of its CD-ROM recorder would experience problems because the software controlling the recorder is "incompatible with Windows 98". Weeks refuted the claim saying: "Philips has acted in error" and that "the recorder does work under 98". A Philips spokeswoman confirmed that Weeks is misinformed and that although the recorder worked with Windows 95, a new driver had to be written for Windows 98. "It works now" she said "but it didn't when '98 arrived".

Weeks also criticised Dell for "contradicting itself" with "pages encouraging users to upgrade to Windows 98 and other pages (targeting Dell Latitude users) warning them against it." David Marshall European brand manager at Dell said: "We're not contradicting ourselves but he obviously doesn't understand how we target our customers." Marshall's chief concern was that Latitude notebook users -- predominantly corporate buyers -- would want Dell to carry out its own tests on the operating system. He conceded that there "is a bios issue" but that tests should be complete "by August 3".

98's troubled arrival has prompted questions about Microsoft's intent, not only with the operating system but with its applications. Catherine Slater, senior software analyst at Romtec wondered whether Microsoft's policy is simply "to force users to keep upgrading the operating system and other products?" She added: "It's a bit silly really, you buy Windows 98 thinking it will solve the problems the previous version had and instead it adds more."

Slater has received several calls complaining mostly about installation problems. She's far from speechless: "Well it's not surprising really is it? We've had a lot of feedback from people saying Windows 98 should have been free, or others complaining that it has introduced its own bugs on top of the bugs Windows 95 had." Slater confirmed that she has received calls praising Windows 98 "for being faster" than Windows 95.

One user, Nick Russill, managing director of laptop computer manufacturer Terradat UK, had his own problems with the operating system, which he has now dumped in favour on Windows 95. "We tried to install Windows 98 on two machines with clean hard drives," he said, "but when it got to booting up the systems crashed and went into safe mode without realising it had exited the installation procedure." Russill, an experienced user, said the installation is "just not flexible enough. It tries to take over completely but can't recover when things go wrong."

After trying and failing to install the software, Russill was forced to abandon Windows 98 and opt for 95 instead -- a situation he, as a Microsoft customer, is most unhappy about. "Apart from the installation problems I've also had problems detecting my modem. I am totally displeased. I have never had more problems with an operating system before."

Despite several requests, Microsoft was unable to respond to comments made during the latter half of this article.