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August 20, 1995

Windows 95 gets a field
in Rhode Island

By Timothy C. Barmann

If you were to believe the hype about Microsoft's Windows 95, the software giant's newest operating system, you would think the world will be forever changed after its belated release on Thursday.

"August 24 will no longer be remembered as the day the waffle iron was officially patented," Microsoft says in one of its ads.

But all the hoopla aside, is Windows 95 really worth the $89 to upgrade from its three-year-old dependable predecessor, Windows 3.1?

First, it may cost much more than $89 to get Windows 95 running on your PC. While Microsoft claims it will run on computers with a 386 DX chip and four megabytes of memory, several magazine reviews say performance is sluggish with that configuration. They recommend a 486 computer and at least eight megabytes of RAM. Memory costs up to $50 per megabyte.

Windows 95 also eats up lots of hard disk space - about 35 megabytes more than Windows 3.1, Microsoft says. If you want to use Microsoft Exchange (included e-mail and fax software) and Microsoft Network (its new online service), that's another 20 megabytes.

Despite its thirst for memory and disk space, Windows 95 has received mostly positive reviews from several Rhode Islanders who've been running test or "beta" versions of the program for several months.

Beta testers are brave souls who offer up their computers as electronic guinea pigs to run unreleased and untested programs for software companies. In exchange, they can brag that they are the first to try out hot new programs, such as Windows 95.

'A beautiful thing'

Ray Williams of Exeter gushes about the new operating system. After running "Build 347" - one test version - on his home computer for about three months, he can't say enough about how "incredible" it is.

"It's just a beautiful thing," said Williams, after listing features he likes, including its new Macintosh-like feel.

He said he also was impressed with the software's "plug and play" feature, which automatically identified and configured a new sound card he had installed in his computer.

Williams said he did have a problem, though, when he first installed Windows 95. A large, black square appeared in the middle of the screen where the mouse cursor should have been. But he found a temporary fix by adjusting the program's settings.

Despite this minor snag, Williams said, he thinks people should "definitely" upgrade.

"I think it's about time they (Microsoft) did something intelligent for the normal, everyday user like myself. I am by no means a computer genius," said Williams, who works in the sheet metal shop of General Dynamics at Quonset Point.

'It's intuitive'

Rajiv Vora, a software engineer for Comtec Information Systems of Warwick, also is enthusiastic about Windows 95.

He has been testing it for about four months on two computers at work, to get a head start writing programs called "device drivers" - software that lets computers talk to their components, such as CD-ROM drives and printers. He has written several of these programs, which allow Windows 95 to communicate with specialized printers his company makes.

"I like it," Vora said of Windows 95. "The interface is really easy to use - it's intuitive," and it makes his computer run faster.

Vora did have some problems, though, installing two test versions of the software. The first version he installed erased important system files on his computer without warning him first.

But the most recent test version of Windows 95 had an even more serious problem. It froze Vora's computer for 5 or 10 minutes at a time during the installation process. To regain control of the computer, he had to reboot - the high-tech equivalent of a good kick in the pants. The glitch happened three times in a row, Vora said, and repeated itself again on a different computer.

He eventually solved it by "killing" the program that was hanging up the computer - a program that was supposed to figure out what hardware was connected to his machine.

Vora said he's confident that Microsoft will rectify these bugs for the retail release of the program and said he thinks people "most certainly" should upgrade.

Wait six months to a year

But not everyone thinks upgrading immediately is such a great idea. Cranston computer consultant Michael S. Bilow is not a beta tester, but he said he has observed Windows 95 enough to form some opinions about it.

He pointed out that besides additional hardware, users will have to buy new software designed especially for Windows 95 to take advantage of some of its new features.

And in some cases, Bilow said, programs running under Windows 95 may perform more slowly than under the operating system it is replacing, Windows 3.1.

"There are probably a lot of users who are happy with their current configuration." And it doesn't make sense for those people to spend a lot of money "to get substantially the same speed and capability that they started out with," Bilow said.

For users intent on upgrading, especially businesses, he recommends waiting at least six months to a year, which is advice others are giving as well.

Let the bugs shake out

Patrick F. Ford, general manager of Arnold Mills Computers, said it's inevitable that the "final" Windows 95 program released on Thursday will have bugs in it. He's advising his business clients to wait until those bugs are found and a new version is available before installing it on company PC networks.

"No one would dare implement this (version) over a corporate-wide area network right now," said Ford, of Cumberland.

Even though the new operating system has undergone several months of scrutiny from some 450,000 testers nationwide, Ford said he still considers Windows 95 "to be in 'beta' for at least another year. It's irrelevant what the release date is."

Tony Pelliccio, network and computer manager for the Providence office of Ernst & Young LLP, an accounting firm, said he won't install Windows 95 on the office's 105 computers right away.

Though the program is "pretty solid," he said, it has crashed some programs written for the older version of Windows.

"We are planning to roll out Win95 sometime around Spring of 1996 when all the bugs have been worked out - though there aren't many," he said.

To most, the question seems not whether to upgrade, but when. And Microsoft surely hopes that when its customers finally do switch to Windows 95, they will be as pleased as Ray Williams.

"I just think there's going to be a lot of happy people out there," he said. "Because I know I am."

Computer calendar

Aug. 31 - IBM's OS/2 Warp Internet applications will be discussed at the next Ocean State Internet Society meeting, at the Weaver Public Library on Grove Street in East Providence. New user question period is at 6:30 p.m.; regular program begins at 7 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring laptop computers. For more information, contact OSIS at 435-8083, box 2, or e-mail osis@osfn.rhilinet.gov. Cost: Free.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff photographer. His column runs every other Sunday on the On Line page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.