Windows 98 seen as upgrade for industry

Video, audio playback capabilities improved

Microsoft Corp.’s new Windows 98 operating system upgrade, which was slated to hit store shelves at midnight Wednesday, won’t revolutionize computing but will offer some improved capabilities in entertainment-oriented functions of video and audio playback, according to industry observers.

The new operating system will look nearly identical to predecessor Windows 95, but contains numerous enhancements and bug-fixes. Most significant for the entertainment industry is Windows 98’s built-in support for digital videodisc (DVD-ROM) players, which are replacing CD-ROM players as standard equipment on personal computers.

The combination of Windows 98 with new, sub-$1,000 PC systems opens the market to many new and repeat buyers, who will then be able to use their computers to watch DVD-based movies and also use the PCs as gaming platforms, according to Tom Rhinelander, a computer industry analyst for Forrester Research.

Entertainment capabilities improved

Microsoft said Windows 98 improves on Windows 95 in areas of performance, reliability and ease of use, as well as opening new areas of PC hardware options and entertainment capabilities. Certain typical operations, such as opening applications on the PC, will average 36% faster with the new operating system, said Microsoft.

Looking to the future, Windows 98 is also better positioned for use in television set-top boxes, and in home-theater DVD players connected to televisions, noted Fred Davis, author of “The Windows 98 Bible,” a book about the new operating system. That way, a computer or set-top box could be a much better platform for gaming, he said, threatening the marketplace foothold of dedicated gaming platforms.

Estimated retail pricing for the upgrade version for current users of Windows 95 and Windows 3.1 is $109, but actual prices will likely hover around $70 or $80.