So what's the big deal about this new version of Windows? Microsoft has challenged Harvard students to find out.
In an unprecedented move, Microsoft Corporation is soliciting volunteers at select universities to help test their much-bally-hooed Windows 95 operating system in its pre-release, or "beta," form.
At Harvard, the beta test is being administrated by the Harvard Computer Society. Interested students should visit the HCS offices in Thayer basement between 3 and 5 p.m. today, Thursday or Friday for more information.
Students enrolled at the College can participate in the program, which involves installing a pre-release version of Windows 95 on your personal computer and putting the operating system through the stresses of everyday use.
Of course, you will not want to do any important work under the pre-release version of Windows 95, since more than likely, the operating system will at some point "crash," or freeze your computer. Seniors writing theses should steer far away from Microsoft's offer! Those adventurous students who participate in this "beta test" will be rewarded with a spanking new copy of the final product once it is released.
Why is Microsoft practically giving their hottest product away to any angst-ridden Harvard student just for the asking? After the public relations disaster surrounding Intel's Pentium chip and its inability to perform division on certain rational numbers, Microsoft is making an extra effort to ensure that Windows 95 goes to press with a minimum of bugs. Windows 95 contains a slew of new features-features that could easily translate into new headaches for users; Microsoft wants to avoid problems as much as possible by testing the product on willing guinea pigs.
Microsoft promises much smoother interaction with the user under Windows 95. Along these lines, the new operating system's greatest asset may be its "Plug and Play" functionality. "Plug and Play" will provide users with a simple way to upgrade their PCs with CD-ROM players, sound cards and other multimedia hardware, as well as standard peripherals like printers, monitors and modems.
Under the current version of Windows, installation of such devices requires knowledge of obscure things such as "IRQ settings." Under a "Plug and Play" paradigm, the operating system figures out what is connected to it and configures itself accordingly.
Current users of Windows who are used to working with the Program Manager and the File Manager may be shocked to find that Windows 95 combines the functionality of these and other tools into a single "taskbar," but Microsoft promises in their press releases that the new interface will "make experienced users of Windows 3.x productive immediately." Moreover, Microsoft pledges that the speed of applications running under Windows 95 will meet or exceed that of the same application running under Windows 3.x.
Harvard students connected to the High-Speed Data Network (HSDN) will benefit from Windows 95's built-in TCP/IP and networking support, which will allow for simple connection to HSDN resources. Many students will also appreciate Microsoft's campaign urging video game developers to release entertainment software for Windows 95.
Will Windows 95 change the world as its predecessors did? Yes, but not as quickly. I suspect that Microsoft will barely get Windows 95 to market in time for it to hit the shelves in calendar year 1995, and that most users won't upgrade until mid-1996.
But, if Microsoft can pull off something that they've never previously been able to accomplish--namely, an initial product release free of major bugs--then there is no question that users will flock to Windows 95. New users will especially take to the product, as it will arguably make Windows machines as easy to set up and use as Macintoshes, thus stealing the ease-of-use crown that Apple has held for over ten years.
Eugene Koh '96-'97 is Remote Staff Manager, Media Services, at America Online, Inc. He also composes soundtracks for CD-ROMS and may be reached online as "email@example.com."