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Mike Elgan

Win98: An Old Idea Made New
Finally, Chicago: Microsoft completes the operating system vision it outlined back in 1994.

When Windows 98 arrives (probably in the first half of next year) it will mark a significant occasion: the completion of the original "Chicago" project.

Remember Chicago? In the early 1990s, it was Microsoft's grand vision for an operating system, a revolutionary new version of Windows. At the time, Windows 3.1 was flying high and quickly becoming the platform of choice for business and home users alike. The user interface consisted of Program Manager and File Manager. You customized and optimized Windows 3.1 by tweaking the CONFIG.SYS, AUTOEXEC.BAT, SYSTEM.INI and WIN.INI files.

The new OS envisioned by Microsoft sported nested folders and what was then called a "tray" (and is now called the taskbar) where running programs would reside. Shortcut icons would live right on the Desktop-not in the ProgMan Window. Instead of system files, you would tweak a "Registry," a single entity that contained all the system and user information, and was created at every boot-up.

All that and much more, of course, shipped in Windows 95. But it wasn't the complete vision: Two of the coolest aspects of the original Chicago project fell off the priority list before the product went to market.

The first of these was that (in the nomenclature of the time) the "shell" would be a true "OLE container." That meant you could embed stuff into the shell just like you can embed an Excel spreadsheet into a Word document. It would also give users a system-wide scripting system. Nowadays, the shell is called the Desktop and OLE has become ActiveX. As you'll read in our cover story, Win98 lets you embed linked objects into the Desktop using ActiveX technology. It also lets you write scripts that automate tasks across applications and interact with the OS.

The second cool idea was that the Desktop would have a single icon representing all networked resources-including the Internet. Windows 95 took us to Network Neighborhood, but Windows 98 brings us to the Internet.

Microsoft spins these two concepts (embedded linked data on the Desktop and seamless Internet access) as "Web Integration." Back when these ideas were being dreamed up, few knew or cared about the Web. But with its legendary good luck, all the planets lined up for Microsoft: The Web exploded in popularity and usability just in time to make Microsoft's original Chicago vision something awesome.

Of course, Windows 98 is much, much more than Win95 with a couple of old ideas slapped onto it. By my own count, the OS will have at least 13 new hardware-support features, 17 new optimization tools, 20 new applets and 22 new Internet goodies. Anyone who tells you Win98 is a minor upgrade is just plain wrong.

Some of the new features are part of the Internet Explorer 4.0 browser, which will serve as the new user interface for Win98. Others have been available as dribbleware downloads from Microsoft's Web site. Still others come straight from Win95b (the SR2 release of Win95). And the rest are brand-spanking new.

Of course, Win98 is far from perfect. In addition to the usual beta bugs and glitches, the OS has some inconsistencies and missing elements that might yet spoil some of the fun.

So take a look. Check out the cover story for the most complete report on Win98 ever printed on paper.

For the most comprehensive report on Win98 anywhere, however, you'll have to visit the special site we've dedicated to the product: http://www.winmag.com/Win98. Here you'll find the latest and greatest details, all manner of downloads and lots of lively discussion.

If our coverage of Win98 doesn't answer every question you have about Win98, drop me a line at melgan@winmag.com. We'll do our best to answer your question in print and online.

Mike Elgan is editor of WINDOWS Magazine. Contact Mike at his Web site (http://www.winmag.com/people/melgan) or at the addresses on page 20.


Windows Magazine, October 1997, page 17.

[ Go to October 1997 Table of Contents ]