The pros and cons of Microsoft Windows 95

Microsoft Windows 95 has finally arrived, but is it ready for you?

While Windows 95 is greatly improved over its predecessor Windows 3.1, it brings a number of new problems that need to be resolved. I'll review some of the good features and point out some of the pitfalls.

Windows 95 combines a more intuitive user interface with a more robust operating system. Program Manager and File Manager are replaced with a Macintosh-like desktop metaphor. The task bar at the bottom of the screen is available for starting new programs and for switching between running applications from within any program. The desktop icons "My Computer" and "Network Neighborhood" show the foldered contents of your computer's hard drive, including long file names, and the computers and servers located on your network. You can use shortcuts to create aliases of frequently used programs or folders on the desktop or in the start menu.

For the first time ever, Windows 95 gives you use of both mouse buttons. The left one is used to start programs, while the right one pops up context-sensitive menus for defining common properties for the program you are running. For example, in Microsoft Word the right mouse button gives you the option to change the font of a word, to change the spacing in the paragraph, or to create a numbered or bulleted list.

Windows 95 brings some major architectural improvements over Windows 3.1. In most cases, 32-bit programs written for Windows 95 use memory more efficiently and run faster than 16-bit software. Multithreading and multitasking allow you to run multiple programs together without the jerkiness of Windows 3.1. In Windows 95, you really can download a file, format a floppy and read your e-mail at the same time. For laptop users, the new briefcase feature automatically synchronizes any files within the briefcase folders on your laptop and desktop machines. Another feature, Plug and Play, autodetects and configures any devices you install on your computer. A word of caution, though -- with older or non-PCI hardware, Plug and Play is still more theory than reality.

Unfortunately, Windows 95 is not nearly as stable or complete as Microsoft wants you to believe. Compared to more mature operating systems, Windows 95 lacks security, stability and advanced networking capabilities, though all three are better than in Windows 3.1. Many critical departmental applications have not been tested for compatibility with Windows 95. Since Windows 95's release in late August, a number of incompatibilities have surfaced with Novell Netware, a common type of network found at Emory. You can expect to see these problems fixed sometime next year.

To make good use of Windows 95 in an average environment, you will need more hard disk space and memory than Microsoft claims. You will need at least a 486/33, about 100 megabytes of free disk space and 16 megabytes of RAM for optimal performance. If your hardware falls below these specifications, consider carefully the cost of upgrading your equipment. If you have to make several upgrades, it may make more sense to replace your computer. If you plan on purchasing a new machine at this time, consider at least a Pentium 75 with 16 megabytes of RAM, 1 gigabyte hard drive, and a quad speed CD-ROM. Since your 16-bit programs will not run better under Windows 95 than Windows 3.1, also remember to budget for upgrades to Windows 95 32-bit applications to reap the full benefits of the operating system.

Given the fact that Windows 95 is essentially the first release of a new operating system and the ongoing doubts about its compatibility with large Novell networks, the Information Technology Division (ITD) and computing support in Oxford, law, business, public health and nursing cannot currently recommend or support the deployment of Windows 95 on campus. Be aware that any networked Windows 95 workstation that appears to adversely affect network operations will be disconnected from the network until a resolution can be found.

ITD's support staff and local support people are working with Microsoft and other vendors to identify problems and to become proficient in Windows 95 as soon as possible. We know that Windows 95 will become the primary operating system for Intel computers. However, we think this is a time when being on the leading edge is the same as being on the bleeding edge. We'll update you as the software stabilizes and problems are resolved.

Tiffany Rucker is ITD Assistant Computing Lab Manager.