The recent release of Windows 2000, the successor to
Microsoft’s business-oriented Windows NT, is forcing many
people to look again at their operating-system strategy.
Whether you use a personal computer at work or home, its
operating system affects your choice of software and hardware
peripherals, your ease in loading programs and managing files, and
your computer’s resistance to crashes and security
If the central processing unit, or CPU, is the
heart of your machine that pumps out data, the operating system, or OS, is the brain that determines where data should go.
Here’s a rundown on the state of OSs today.
Windows 2000 is Microsoft’s best attempt yet to
bring the enhanced stability and security of Windows NT to the
masses. Windows 2000 (http://www.microsoft.com/windows2000) still
doesn’t match the stability and scalability of many Unix-based
systems, but it’s a good upgrade for most users of Windows NT
4.0, with an easier-to-use interface and support for USB
peripherals, DVD drives, and Plug-and-Play upgrading.
It’s not a good choice for most Windows 98 or 95 users.
Despite compatibility improvements, Windows 2000 may not support all
of your programs or peripherals. You need a relatively recent
computer and at least 64 megabytes of memory to run this OS
effectively. And it’s expensive, as are all Microsoft
OSs—one of the few software categories that hasn’t
dropped in price over time.
For most people, the successor to Windows 98 will be a better
upgrade. Windows Millennium (abbreviated as Windows
Me) is scheduled for release later this year and will improve
support for the hottest new technologies, such as the Internet audio
format MP3, digital video editing, and home networking.
Reports from beta testers, however, indicate that Microsoft may
remove from Windows Me some business networking features that exist
in Windows 98 and 95. Some allege that this is an attempt to force
business users to upgrade to the more expensive Windows 2000.
When it comes to Microsoft operating system upgrades, the best
decision can sometimes be to wait to upgrade until you buy a new
computer that comes preinstalled with the new OS. This saves time
and money—and avoids potential upgrading glitches.
Microsoft may be the OS Goliath, but there are a few Davids out
there, slingshots in hand, and the US Justice Department is keeping
a benevolent watch on them. The most promising is Linux, the
Unix-like OS once strictly for geeks but now moving slowly toward
Corel, the Canadian company behind CorelDraw and WordPerfect, is
now distributing Corel Linux (http://linux.corel.com), an
easier-to-use version that looks like Windows 98. More Linux
software is available, including Corel’s own WordPerfect for
Linux, though the selection is still dwarfed by the available
Windows titles. You also may have problems getting all of your
peripherals to work with Linux systems.
Linux is commonly used as a midrange server OS, for delivering
data and programs over networks. But it will likely show up in the
future in more budget-priced computers as well as Internet
appliances—inexpensive computer-like devices specifically for
connecting to the Net.
Two other inexpensive, upstart OSs—less widely known than
Linux—are BeOS and NewDeal.
BeOS (http://www.be.com) is available as a free download for
individuals and like Linux will be bundled with some Internet
appliances. This OS was originally targeted to Apple Macintosh
users. However, when Apple backed out of negotiations to buy it, Be
shifted focus. Be customized the latest version of BeOS for Windows
98 and 95 users. Unlike with Linux, you can use BeOS without having
to create a separate partition on your hard disk. Still, unless you
use it with an Internet appliance, it’s a tool mainly for
NewDeal (http://www.newdealinc.com) can be a good choice if you
have a 286 clunker that’s headed for a landfill. The product,
created by the people behind GeoWorks (a former Windows competitor
now used primarily in wireless devices), is a new graphical OS
designed for old PCs. Its minimum requirements are just 640
kilobytes of memory, a 10-megabyte hard drive, CGA graphics, and DOS
Once heralded as the successor to DOS, IBM’s OS/2 is
still around, but it’s not being actively marketed or upgraded
anymore and is used mainly by IBM’s corporate customers.
Finally, with its legion of loyal followers, the eminently usable Mac OS continues to improve. Mac OS 9, though still available
only for Macs, makes it easier to conduct an Internet search and
helps different people using the same Mac keep their desktop and
Internet settings separate.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the
book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.”
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or <A