US Report: MS changes Win 98 service pack plans

Continuing to deny any problems with Windows 98, Microsoft has decided to delay the introduction of the first Service Pack for the operating system.

Earlier last week, Microsoft was attempting to put the finishing touches on a beta of a "multimedia enhancement" pack for Windows 98. This pack, according to an e-mail beta invitation that the company sent out to potential testers, was slated to include any necessary Windows 98 hot fixes, as well as various multimedia features, such as DirectX 6.0, Internet Explorer Service Pack 2, and a unified media player. Microsoft was planning to deliver the pack before the end of summer.

Late last week, Microsoft officials had a change of heart and decided to separate out the multimedia elements from the bug fixes that ultimately will comprise Service Pack 1, company officials confirmed. Microsoft is planning to commence beta testing of DirectX 6.0 and the Gemstar online TV guide within the next few weeks and will deliver these components separately at a future, undetermined date.

But the official Service Pack 1 for Windows 98 now is slated to go to beta in August, rather than this month, and be commercially available in September according to sources close to the company. "This delay will give Microsoft time to incorporate the various and growing number of Windows 98 bug fixes from product support," said a developer close to the company who requested anonymity.

Microsoft officials refused to confirm or comment on alleged internal target dates for Service Pack 1.

Microsoft officials continue to claim that the number and type of problems being reported by Windows 98 customers are not out of the ordinary. A company spokeswoman said during the past weekend the average call waiting time for those calling Microsoft Technical Support was three minutes, thanks to Microsoft adding 100 extra technical support specialists. She said that one-third of the logged calls are simple "how-to" calls.

But corporate and consumer customers continued to cite problems installing and loading the operating system on laptops, notebooks and desktop systems. Beta testers who had not encountered problems with near-final releases of the product reported problems trying to install the final "gold" version of the product. And PC vendors continued to post Windows 98 drivers, patches and fixes for different models to their web support sites.

One developer summarised the complaints this way: "If you have a six-month to one-year-old machine, Windows 98 runs OK. If you do a clean installation on a two- to three-year-old machine, it might work OK. If you try to run it on anything else or do an upgrade, forget it."