Thursday, May 26, 2011

Looking Back to Windows 95

I just purchased a wonderful little Acer computer with 4 GB of RAM and a 1 TB hard drive. It's has eight USB ports and puts out great video. It is running Windows 7. It cost less than $500. The power and affordability of modern computing hardware and software is stunning. The following is an article that I wrote at the real dawn of the Windows era in 1995. There had been other Windows operating systems before, but they were not much to be proud of. Windows 386 was the first effort to provide true multi-tasking and it simply did not work. If you care to read what is below, please note the hardware specs in what was the going hot machine of the era. They are NOT typos:


Winton Woods

August 1995

The Boy Scouts' Marching Song

Only a few of you will remember Tom Lehrer and his Boy Scouts' Marching Song but for those who do, it is an apt warning for the next few weeks when Microsoft puts its Windows 95 product on the market. Those who don't remember Tom Lehrer may want to read TOO MANY SONGS BY TOM LEHRER (with not enough drawings by Ronald Searle)(Pantheon, $16.50) (Paperback, $8.95) for a view of the Fifties that differs a little from the TV version. For the rest you, those who like living on the edge and don't need Rogain, August of 1995 is your time.

The introduction of Microsoft Windows 95 will have a huge impact upon the world of those who use computers. It will also have a huge impact upon Microsoft Corporation, which expects to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the new product in the first few months. No other product in the history of computer software has ever generated the enormous amount of publicity in both the press and more general publications such as BusinessWeekand The Wall Street Journal. If you have ever purchased a computer product by mail or registered your name with one of the many companies that then turns and sells that name to someone else, you have received copies of advertisements seeking your money to purchase Windows 95 before it ever hits the streets. Many of you will succumb to that temptation, and a lot of you have indicated to me that you can't wait for the opportunity. Before you jump, however, let me tell you some things that you need to know.

The first thing that you need to be aware of is that in order run Windows 95 successfully you need to have a fairly recent machine. Nothing less than a 486/66 chip, running 8 megabytes of ram is required. Don't believe the hype that Windows 95 will run just fine on a your old 386 machine. Secondly, you need to have at least 200 megabytes of uncompressed hard disk space to accommodate the size of Windows program and the additional software that you will soon need. Finally, you should have a high end graphics card, perhaps with video capabilities and a sound card in order to fully appreciate the power that Windows 95 will give you. You will undoubtedly want a 17 inch monitor and a CD ROM drive as well. Many of you have machines that meet those specifications and, for you, spending another $89 to purchase an upgrade to Windows 95 is probably not a bad investment. There are some important downsides that you need to think about, however. First, there will undoubtedly be various bugs and hardware conflicts in the first edition of Windows 95. That is absolutely unavoidable, although the beta testing that was done concerning this software is far, far more extensive than any beta testing that has ever been done before. Because computers are built in so many different ways and in so many different configurations, there undoubtedly will be many, many hardware conflicts that will be difficult to resolve in the early going. Besides the hardware problems, however, are the conflicts with existing software that will undoubtedly occur. You cannot assume that all of the software on your computer will run under Windows 95. Indeed, you should assume the opposite. Some applications may run slower under Windows 95 and others will not run at all. Again, these problems are simply the product of the complexity of the program and the astronomical number of potential unique configurations that exist on our individual computers.

In the last issue of INFORMATIONWEEK, Thomas E.F. Sobczak, in a column directed at information management professionals, suggested that everybody wait for six months until they work out the bugs. I think that is excellent advice. Eighty or ninety percent of the problems that are going to occur with Windows 95 will occur during the first six or eight months of the products use. Microsoft will exert superhuman effort to find fixes for all those bugs, although certainly as with any complicated software product, there will be various problems that they cannot simply resolve. Be that as it may, by the time ice melts in the Santa Cruz River, Windows 95 will be a functioning reality that I believe will totally dominate the computer market. But that six or eight month period will be a period of incredible difficulty for many of those who jump off the fantail of the stable old DOS based ship. Ninety percent of the users of Windows 95 will probably experience almost no difficulty with the installation of the program on their existing machines. Indeed, the hype in the press emphasizes the ease of installation and the automatic configuration of various devices like CD-ROM drives and video cards. But for the remaining ten percent, there is a range of potential problems that begins with minor annoyances and ends with system destroying crashes. Unfortunately, there is no way to know which category you are in until you try to install. That means before you start to load up Windows 95, you need to have backed up every single one of your essential files, including the start up and configuration files on your existing hard drive. If you are one of the unfortunate few who suffers a serious operating system crash during the installation or use of Windows 95, the only way you can be certain that you can get back up and running the way you were before is to have an appropriate set of backup files that will allow you to duplicate the existing system on your hard drive. In some unknown number of cases, the disaster that accompanies the attempt to install Windows 95 will require reformatting of the hard drive before you are able to access it again. While there are, even in those extreme cases, ways in which you can probably salvage most, if not all, of the files that you need to continue operating, those remedies will be extremely expensive and involve removing the hard drive from the machine and sending it off to some far away place where the information that you seek can be extracted by experts. Whatever you do, don't try to install Windows 95 without that backup. Be Prepared!!

The potential for problems that I have just described is magnified greatly if you will be running Windows 95 on a network. If you have a network, the likelihood is extremely high that you are using that network in your business or practice, and under those circumstances the advisability of jumping into Windows 95 right now is even lower. Networks create problems all by themselves and while Windows 95 is supposedly very accommodating of networks, there are, beyond doubt, many rough spots ahead. In your business you simply cannot tolerate the risk of any serious system crash, and unless you are prepared to deal with such a crash fully and immediately, you ought not to change your operating system right now. Your life will not change dramatically if you delay the adoption of Windows 95 for a few months. The increase in knowledge and the fixes for complications that inevitably occur will make your life much easier in April than it is in August. Moreover, the software designed for Windows 95 will be much cheaper and far more available than it will be during the forthcoming holiday buying season.

That does not mean, however, that you have to deprive yourself of the opportunity to learn Windows 95. Indeed, you and others in your office who use computers for anything other than basic word processing ought to be learning Windows 95 as soon as you can. You ought to have a machine in the office that is not part of your day-to-day operation where you and your staff can spend a few hours a week learning Windows 95. Windows 95 is very different from the existing Windows configuration and from older DOS based operating systems. It is similar to the MAC/OS2 operating interface with long file names and folders for holding files. While it is designed to be easy to use, it will take some time to learn and it will be extremely difficult for your staff if you suddenly throw them into a radically different operating system and expect them to continue to get out the work that they have always gotten out. If you run a pretty tight ship in your office and you don't have the capacity to tolerate significant periods of down time, you ought to wait until your staff or certain key people on your staff have familiarized themselves with the product and are prepared to deal with the potential for crisis.

There is one other reason to wait. I expect that the introduction of Windows 95 will substantially increase demand for computers that are capable of running it efficiently. That increase in demand will accompany the normal increase in demand that occurs in the fall pre-holiday season. You will never again have an opportunity to spend as much money on a computer as you will have in the next few months, and that alone is a good reason to wait. By Spring I expect that you will be able to buy a Pentium 90 computer with 8 megabytes of RAM, a CD ROM, a high end video card, a high quality sound card, and a 17 inch monitor for under $2,000. That same machine will cost $500 to a $1,000 more than that during the next few months. All of this adds up to the conclusion that you can save a bundle of cash and a lot of hard time by delaying your purchase for a few months. The bottom line is simple. That is: you must fully backup your system in a way that will allow you to reformat your hard drive if that is what you must do in order to get up and running again. Anything less than this undertakes the risk that you will lose all of the information that you have on your machine. Be Prepared!!

1 comment:

  1. 8 megabytes?!? are you kidding me?? great article that gives amazing insight into it's historical location. How much things can change in only a few short years. just think, 5 years later came Y2K. WHOA!! thanks dad!