Windows 98: Customers complain early and often

Microsoft may not be saying much about problems with Windows 98 but customers have plenty they're complaining about.

Difficulties are going beyond the inability of the upgrade version of Windows 98 to recognise a number of common PC modem and PC LAN cards, as first reported last week. Users are reporting troubles that run the gamut, from Microsoft and third-party applications not working properly to Windows 98 dumping their Novell IPX and NetBEUI clients. Windows 98 users posting to various newsgroups and forums also are citing registry corruption problems, the inability of Windows 98 to recognise various peripherals.

Most of the difficulties seemed to plague users attempting to upgrade Windows 98 on top of Windows 95, rather than those willing to do a clean install or buy the new operating system preloaded on new hardware. But some customers performing a clean install reported problems, as well.

Microsoft officials steadfastly maintained late last week and early this week that there were not an inordinate number of problems being reported. "No one's jumped off the top of the [Windows] building here, so I guess that's a pretty good indicator that it can't be all that bad," said Rob Bennett, Microsoft group product manager.

Customers in search of no-charge technical help from Microsoft are reporting constant busy signals when attempting to call Microsoft's Technical Support during normal business hours this week.

"I have had nothing but problems trying to install Win98 over Win95," complained one user. "What gets me really angry though is the impossibility of getting through to Microsoft either by phone or by Web site. I find the whole registration on the Web site a time consuming and frustrating experience." A number of customers are reporting that the supposedly improved plug-and-play capability in the new operating system is neither plugging nor playing properly. And it's not just DOS games and utilities that are no longer working properly under Windows 98, users say.

"I've run only Explorer and Outlook Express thus far - I haven't installed anything else - and have already locked up both programs a couple times - in my first hour of use," said one technically savvy IS manager. "Granted, I have an older (Pentium 200 Micron) PC - but a clean install to a brand new (Seagate Medalist) hard drive - shouldn't I be able to expect more ? If this keeps up, it seems less reliable than Win95."

Another IS professional reported printing problems following a routine Windows 98 upgrade. "I lost printing to the HP and the access to the network," he said. "I reinstalled drivers, but my no-name LAN card was not recognised. Naturally I thought that I had an outdated LAN card and needed a new one. I purchased a NetGear card by Bay Networks & installed it (after removing all references to the old one). No good. Please let Microsoft 'hear' of these problems. So far, this is the toughest upgrade I've had to endure."

A user who first attempted unsuccessfully to do a clean install of Windows 98 and then tried an upgrade was equally unimpressed. "I tried installing Win98 as an upgrade over Win95 OS release b. I figured this had to work, since the original operating system was setup correctly. Well, that didn't work either. This time, after the final boot sequence, the system simply hung, right after the SCSI BIOS reported 'loading boot record from SCSI.' Oh well. So I'm back to Windows 95 until the motherboard manufacturer can offer a solution. Win98 is no picnic to install on SCSI-based systems," he said.

A number of users logging into the newsgroups have reported positive Windows 98 experiences, and according to data released today by PC Data, a market-research firm in the U.S., initial Windows 98 sales are keeping pace with early Windows 95 ones. PC Data found that through Sunday, U.S. retailers had sold more than 530,000 copies of Windows 98 and more than 180,000 units of the accompanying Plus!98 add-on pack.

PC Data Director of Research Roger Lanctot said he had not heard about any copies of the operating system being returned, but he had heard about various installation problems. "A number of consumers will assume they're doing something wrong. Isn't one of the big rationales for Windows 98 supposed to be to solve bugs in Windows 95?" he asked.