Windows 95: What It Means to Education What Windows 95 Brings to Education
Linking Windows 95 to this issue's theme of "cutting-edge learning environments" is simply a matter of projection. It's easy to visualize how this new operating system's face and features will benefit educators and students. But let's get a couple of things straight. This is not World Peace; it's an advance in software. And while it is a step (a big jump in fact) toward perfectly easy, potent computing, it is not the end of the line. Finally, Windows 95 d'es not make a PC "just like a Mac"-more like it, yes; but an exact match, no. Behind the Scenes Benefits Several factors contribute to Windows 95's significance to the education community. Some are obvious; some not. First, as an environment, it is powerful, easy to learn and to use, and has features especially suitable for schools. Most of this article is devoted to describing such functions and components. Less obvious but perhaps more important in the long run, its allure may provide the needed incentives to upgrade existing school technology, and thus, enhance the entire educational infrastructure. This latter point is often soft-pedaled because it takes, well, money. But carefully pinpointed expenditures will minimize the cost and maximize the benefit. And frankly, the stakes are too high not to ante up. On to the OS Itself The Windows 95 desktop is one reason why comparisons to the Mac are easily made. Gone are program groups, replaced by icons of the main tools-My Computer, Network Neighborhood, In Box (e-mail and fax), Briefcase (to synchronize files between two PCs), Recycle Bin (trash)-and almost anything else you want. These take on a different flavor when the PC is in a classroom. For instance, My Computer holds everything associated with a single user, so teachers and student have quick access to their own projects. Network Neighborhood displays all the PCs, servers and printers in a user's workgroup for browsing, sharing and hardcopy. Quarterbacking Windows 95 is the Start button. Always visible in the bottom left corner, its pop-up menu offers access to much of what one d'es: run programs, system management, etc. Also on the bottom is a Taskbar. Every time a new program is started up, a button for it g'es on the Taskbar. To switch among multiple applications, just click its button. A glance sees what programs are running (or not). Plus, when using a modem, a button with send and receive lights g'es on the bar's right-hand corner, so even with an internal unit, one can tell what is going on with the connection-a nice touch. Also totally new are Shortcuts. Students or teachers can create "fast tracks" to often-used files, programs or other objects. An icon of it is placed on the desktop, sporting a little curved arrow. Double clicking the icon fires up the program and takes the user immediately to their spot. And eight character file names are gone. With 250 characters, one can call a file what it really is. Explorer, Wizards & Plug-and-Play Graphical Windows Explorer is the main way to get around and to do things like copy files. Wizards, part of an impressive Help system, guide users step-by-step through tasks like installing a new program, adding a modem, etc. They are found throughout. Plug and Play, one of the more significant advances, is actually a new standard. In essence, P&P peripherals configure themselves. Windows 95's P&P works even with hardware not specifically labeled as such, detecting and setting things up automatically. Anyone who has added a new video card (or anything) to a PC, will love P&P; to schools with many machines and few technical staff, it is manna from heaven. In the same vein, clicking the right button on a two-button mouse pops up a menu with the most common commands for the object at hand for customization and optimum use of resources. Rich, Stable Learning Environment According to SIMBA Information, Inc., of Wilton, Conn., sales of multimedia software to public schools is now $115 million+ and will triple by 1998. Windows 95 was designed for multimedia on a technical level. A true 32-bit OS with a built-in digital video engine, it seamlessly handles the real stuff-full-motion video without the "jerkies," plus high-quality audio and smooth animation. Sample music videos prove it. With AutoPlay, compatible CD-ROMs just run. Afterwards, the CD is uninstalled as well; no files are left to clutter up the hard disk. This feature is particularly suited to classrooms and labs. The power of a true 32-bit OS becomes evident when, for example, one realizes that its multithreading means a student can print a document, watch a video clip and receive e-mail-all at the same time. A stable OS d'esn't crash. With Windows 95, programs run in their own memory space, protected from each other; if one crashes, the rest do not fall. Note that DOS now runs inside of Windows rather than the other way around. Most DOS and 3.1 programs run better under Windows 95. Microsoft's "overriding concern" on compatibility with applications for its earlier OSs shows. Unrivaled in a Network Setting The networking capabilities are unprecedented. Unlike any other desktop OS, Windows 95 works with all popular networks-at the same time. Staff or students can simultaneously connect to multiple networks using Novell NetWare, Windows NT, Banyan Vines, TCP/IP (Internet, etc.) and others. Third-party products bring Macs into the mix as well. So valuable to education's multi-vendor, multi-platform environment, this ensures that schools' current machines can work side by side. Network installation is simple. There's already built-in client support for NT Server, Windows for Workgroups and NetWare. Wizards help, as d'es Plug and Play. Administrative tools make setting up and administering classroom PCs and school networks also easier and more secure. Network managers can establish access parameters for individual students or whole classes from a central PC. Each user must enter a password to log on. Via user profiles, Windows 95 then configures the PC expressly for that student, teacher, administrator or staff member. A student, for instance, will be able to access only those files and programs allowed by the teacher, who can feel safe as well in leaving confidential information to students. User profiles include built-in options to customize the working environment for each student, including those with special needs. For example, Big Fonts and High Contrast suit both young children and low-vision students. Sticky-Keys, MouseKeys, FilterKeys and SerialKeys aid users with various motor-skills difficulties, from minor to severe. And for the hearing impaired, SoundSentry causes part of the screen to flash every time the PC plays a sound. With these features, Windows 95 is especially well suited to school labs, classrooms and district offices where many use the same system. Even connecting to the school network from a remote location is a built-in function. Sporting its own icon, Dial-Up Networking is especially suited to logging on the school LAN from home, or vice versa, as well as accessing online services. Bringing the World to One's Desktop Computing today means going beyond room, school or district boundaries to access an infinite array of educational resources. One literally brings the whole world back to the desktop. Of course, integrated links to The Microsoft Network (MSN) make it an attractive option for one's online service and gateway to the Internet and the Web. For example, those who choose MSN can have simultaneous access to MSN and the Internet using only one connection. Sign up is one button. Shortcuts can be created to take users to favorite Web or MSN sites; one click dials the network, logs on and puts you there. These are part of Microsoft Internet Explorer, found in the Windows 95 Plus! companion pack. This new Internet browser is the first with integrated real-time audio capabilities. It also enables data to be dragged and dropped from Web, FTP and gopher sites right onto the desktop. The Internet Explorer browser, including Shortcuts to Web sites, will work with other access providers as well. MSN, meanwhile, offers educators more than easy access to the 'net. It has extensive content and special areas devoted to education. Other firms active in the education market also have plans for MSN-based activities. The Bandwagon Over 1,000 Windows-based educational applications exist today, says the Educational Software Institute. At the August launch, 35 vendors showed or were developing K-12 products for Windows 95. They include Adobe, Brøderbund, CASPR, Chancery, Davidson and Associates, Edmark, Great Wave, The Learning Co., McGraw-Hill School Systems, MECC, Optimum Resource, Roger Wagner Publishing, Tom Snyder, Videodiscovery and Voyager. Windows 95 is definitely the face of PC computing. It's an easy face to love.
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.