Windows 98 for Educators

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Although Windows 98 didnot receive the media hype Windows 95 enjoyed, this new versionnevertheless deserves educators' attention. Windows 98 has somenoteworthy features including extensive integration of InternetExplorer, the conversion of hard disks to FAT 32 file format,improved support for hardware and faster application load time. Inaddition, Windows 98 includes troubleshooting Wizards, a versionconflict manager and a system information utility for improvedmaintenance and support.

TheUpgrade Experience

Upgradingfrom Windows 95 to Windows 98 is relatively easy and painless. Aftergoing through a few dialog boxes in which you enter a 25 characterProduct Key and accept the license agreement the setup routineoperates on its own, detecting hardware and rebooting automatically.It takes less than an hour on a new machine, a little longer on anolder computer. Before you upgrade, I suggest you copy irreplaceablepersonal files to floppies or a Zip disk. When you are ready toinstall Windows 98, have a blank floppy disk on hand because thesetup program will ask you for one to create the emergency start-updisk. Make sure you have plenty of hard disk space, at least 150 MBif you're upgrading from Windows 95 and 170 MB if you're upgradingfrom Windows 3.1. School network administrators should check out theWindows 98 Resource Kit for a powerful new utility called Batch 98.This easy-to-use tool lets you script every step of the setupprocess.

TheInterface

At first glance, Windows98 resembles its predecessor, which makes the transition to Windows98 smooth when it comes to the interface experience. If you are usingInternet Explorer 4.0 with Active Desktop it will look very similar,but even moving from Windows 95 will be painless. By using the ActiveDesktop feature you can display any Web page on your desktop withoutopening your Web browser. The desktop display is just another Webpage to the operating system. Click on one desktop item and it opensa word processing file, click on the icon next to it and the systemconnects to the Internet and calls up a Web site. Students coulddisplay a page off of the school intranet, the district Web site, orcurriculum related content, such as weather maps or stock tickets, tothe desktop. Other new features of the desktop are very helpful, suchas adding My Documents, the default storage location for documentsyou create, to the desktop for quick and easy access; customizedtoolbars imbedded in the taskbar; and the menu that pops up when youright click any Start Menu item.

The Taskbar in Windows 98is slightly different than before. The Start button is still in theleft-hand corner and the System Tools Tray is still in the right-handcorner with the digital clock plus icons for programs thatautomatically load on startup. But embedded in the taskbar is the newQuick Launch toolbar with four shortcuts: three for Internet -relatedfeatures and one that hides all windows and redisplays the desktop.This is a nifty tool that minimizes all your open applications withone click so you can swiftly return to a clean screen if interruptedby prying eyes. A great tool for teachers! A pop-up menu availablefor the taskbar lets you add either a toolbar for typing a foldername or Web address, a toolbar with all the icons or shortcuts onyour desktop, or a custom toolbar with any shortcuts you choose. TheStart Menu lets you access your Favorites folder and the Start Menuitems have pop-up context menus, so you can modify or delete them.Under Windows 95 you had to go into the Settings dialog box to modifyStart Menu items.

There are new features youmight find annoying such as the Channel Bar, which delivers automaticdelivery of content from commercial Internet resources such as WarnerBrothers, Disney, AOL, PointCast, Microsoft Network, MSNBC andothers. Unless you have a very fast Internet connection and at least64MB of memory, your computer will slow down considerably as theChannel Bar is searching in the background while you work in theforeground. Another potential system drain is Windows 98's specialeffects. Right click a desktop icon, for instance, and the resultingmenu d'esn't just popup, it "grows" out of the icon. Both of thesefeatures drain system resources and overall performance declines, soyou might want to turn them off - which can be done with just a fewclicks.

The most notable changesare in Windows Explorer, which now resembles a Web browser. Accordingto Microsoft's usability studies, non-technical users have an easiertime using a Web browser than Windows, so the company's programmersturned the new operating system into a virtual browser. WindowsExplorer, which once resembled the old Windows 3.1 File Manager, nowlooks and acts like Internet Explorer 4.01. It' s complete withForward and Back buttons, a toolbar and an address line where you cantype a file address to access a file from your hard drive or a Webaddress to jump to a site on the Internet. A narrow panel on the leftside shows the general information and a wider panel on the rightside lists drives, folders, or files. When a file is selected in theright panel, its date and size appears in the left panel. If an imagefile or Microsoft Office document is selected, a thumbnail previewalso appears, but you still can't peek at Word documents or Excelspreadsheets. You can move the mouse pointer over a disk icon to seehow much free space the disk has. To select a file you can hover overit with the mouse and launch it with a single click. These changesmay be too much for some users, so there are a myriad of interfaceoptions built in to the operating system. If you don't want yourcomputer to act like a Web page, for example, you can click on MyComputer, choose View, Folder Options and then choose Classic Styleto have your computer default to classic Windows settings.

Performance

With Window 98's FAT 32file system you can increase space on your hard drive. Your computerstores data in clusters, each of which can contain data from only onefile. If the file d'esn't fill the cluster, the disk space is wasted.FAT 32 (File Allocation Table) uses smaller clusters (4KB) than FAT16, which uses 16KB. There is less waste with smaller clusters andtherefore it frees up unused disk space. Windows 98 makes theconversion from FAT 16 to FAT 32 easy by supplying a utility thatlets you painlessly convert your drive to FAT 32. It increased thefree disk space on my 2GB hard drive by 400MB.

Because of Windows 98'simproved Disk Defragmenter utilities, the wait time for applicationsto load will be appreciably shorter. Windows 98 monitors how aparticular program loads into memory and then carefully rearrangesthat application on your hard drive to achieve maximum loading speed.The software program you use the most will probably show the bestresults. I noticed a substantial difference in loading Word97.

Maintenanceand Support

Windows 98 is easier tosupport, maintain and troubleshoot. Users in schools will be betterable to help themselves with tools like the System ConfigurationUtility and fifteen different Troubleshooting Wizards. Hopefullyteachers will not need to call the computer help desk so often forcommon print problems and missing files. For everyday use, aMaintenance Wizard lets you schedule regular disk checking withScanDisk, disk optimizing with Disk Defragmenter, and cleanup oftemporary and other unneeded files with the new Disk Cleanup. Windows98 fixes bugs from the previous version and has two and half years'worth of patches and additional features on one CD-ROM. Schools thatneed to reinstall Windows on their computers a few times a year willfind it a blessing not having to apply all the patches and upgradesevery time.

At the top of the StartMenu you can click the Windows Update icon and dial into a specialMicrosoft site where an Update Wizard automatically downloads andinstalls software updates, bug patches, and other assorted fixes toyour operating system, drivers and applications. Be sure to registeryour new Windows program to be eligible for the updates. The easiestway to do this is to click on the Register Now button on the Windows98 Welcome screen.

Windows 98 has also addeda lot of new drivers for up-to-date peripherals, which will be veryhelpful as schools start to purchase new hardware, such as DVD-ROMdrives. And compatibility problems will lessen as digital cameras andscanners are added using Universal Serial Bus (USB). USB is dozens oftimes faster than traditional printer or serial connections andallows users to plug in devices without shutting off the power first.Also useful for classrooms is the Web TV for Windows feature, whichlets you use a classroom computer to receive television programs. Itworks in conjunction with a TV tuner card like the ATI All-in-Wonder,letting you view TV programs in a window or in full-screenmode.

In conclusion, Windows 98brings the look and the feel of the Web to the desktop along with theadditional benefits of higher performance and better systemmaintenance. If you're comfortable on the Web and using Windows 95,you'll love Windows 98.


Pam Berger is a school library media specialist and the publisher andeditor of Information Searcher, a newsletter for integratingtechnology into the curriculum. She is the author of Internet forActive Learners: Curriculum Strategies for K-12 (ALA Editions.Chicago, IL, Spring, 1998) and has written numerous articles forlibrary and education journals, in addition to presenting atconferences around the world. Visit her Web site at www.infosearcher.com,or e-mail her at pberger@compuserve.com.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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