Opinion: What I Hate Most About Windows 98

Windows 98, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

How about the fact it charges about £70 (£130 for the full version) to fix hundreds of Win95 bugs that should have been patched years ago? Or how it finally includes the improved drivers Microsoft promised for 1995? Or how it adds yet another interface metaphor on top of the six it has already, giving us the welcome opportunity to retrain 200 million users.

No wait, how about the way it force feeds us Microsoft's channels and Microsoft's Internet access partners and Microsoft's browser? Or the way it can gobble up 200 MB or more, saving us the trouble of figuring out what to do with all that wasted space on our hard drives.

No, there's something I hate even more.

Its inflated price. Not long ago, I wrote a piece for PC Week explaining why Windows pricing could be the smoking gun. I pointed out that Windows has not dropped in price in more than a decade. During that same decade, most software programs fell by a factor of five or 10 times.

Other analysts have noticed what's going on. "In markets where [Microsoft] has a commanding position, it seems to be using classic monopoly pricing," said Business Week. The Wall Street Journal put it this way: "Everywhere else in the technology business... prices have fallen... One exception stands out. The price of Microsoft's Windows operating software..." The Journal estimates the company's gross margin on Windows is 92%. And the operating margin is more than 50%.

By comparison, many hardware makers operate on 5% or less. That, my friends, is what happens when a company doesn't have any competition. It gouges customers.

It could get better... but it's gonna get worse. The cost of Windows will double sometime in the next two or three years. That's when most of us will switch to Windows NT.

Windows 98 should have been released for free on January 1, 1996 and titled Windows 95.1. If this were Hollywood, then Windows 98 would be the equivalent of "Heaven's Gate," "Waterworld" and "Godzilla" rolled into one. A huge, overhyped, bloated embarrassment.

But this isn't Hollywood, where you can choose from hundreds of films. In the operating systems world, there's only one thing that plays on screens everywhere. And if there's only one movie to watch, maybe you go to the cinema anyway. Even if it's a stinker.

That's why I'll eventually use Windows 98. Because I don't have any choice. Even though I hate it.