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Windows 98: To Buy Or Not To Buy?

With one week to go before Microsoft's Windows 98 hits retail stores, inquiring computer users want to know: Should they shell out the $90 or so for new software to upgrade their machines?

The new software, to be launched June 25, isn't the huge advance that Windows 95 was. Microsoft Corp., acknowledging the less dramatic impact of the upgrade -- and perhaps reluctant to make a splash as it fights a federal antitrust lawsuit -- hasn't duplicated the huge advertising campaign of three years ago.

Computer game players may want the system's improved 3-D technology. And those who spend a lot of time nosing around the Internet might like the way Microsoft's Web browser is integrated into the operating system. But most computer users will find far fewer enhancements than the Windows 95 upgrade offered, and nearly all new applications will work with either Windows 95 or 98.

"In my opinion, what little we will get above and beyond (what) we already have ... is not worth $109," said Rajendra Gondhalekar, a civil engineer in Birmingham, Ala. Windows 98 is expected to sell for about $20 less than its $109 list price.

Microsoft readily acknowledges that Windows 98 is more of a tuneup than an overhaul. But the company says it offers a variety of solid improvements that most consumers would find useful and allow them to run programs easier, faster and more reliably.

Computing publications and industry analysts, meanwhile, say the decision to upgrade should be based on how consumers use their PCs and what new tasks they might want them to perform.

"For the pedestrian home users, who are happy with what they're doing and don't plan major changes, I don't understand why any of (them) should be motivated to run out and get this," said Harry Fenik, an analyst with Zona Research in Redwood City, Calif., who has tested Windows 98 for several weeks and likes it.

"Alternatively, people who tend to buy the latest and greatest and add new peripherals on a regular basis are probably going to find their world less crazy than they did before," he said.

Anyone who's bought a PC with Windows 95 in the last year already has many of the new program's upgrades, though not the browser integration. Anyone with a PC more than a couple of years old may simply want to take advantage of low prices and buy a new machine, which will come with Windows 98.

Joel Diamond, technical director of WUGNET, Windows User Group Network, is conducting live Windows 98 forums on CompuServe and plans a live Internet discussion the day of the launch. "We know there are going to be a lot of people who want their questions answered," he said.

Windows 95 was a dramatic improvement over its predecessor, Windows 3.1, in making a PC easier to use, and helped spur computer sales.

Windows 98's main improvement is that it builds Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser into the operating system. The browselets users find and manage information stored on the PC's hard drive as if they were surfing the Web, clicking on back and forward buttons.

Channels, direct links to customized Web sites, are offered on the desktop. Users can ask to be alerted when information on a selected site is updated.

In addition, Windows 98 starts up and shuts down more quickly than Windows 95 and is less prone to crash. It also boasts a more efficient file-storing system.

Richard Pulcrano, owner of a mobile radiology service in Huntington, W. Va., continuously gets on and off the Web and believes Windows 98 will let him work more efficiently.

Pulcrano put his order in for Windows 98 several months ago.

"It's such a cheap way to get things done," he said. "Time is money, and $100 is nothing compared with how much time it saves me."

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