EDITORIAL The cloud over Windows 98

EDITORIAL The cloud over Windows 98

Windows 98 is presumably in manufacturing now. While everything's looking OK in Australia and most of the world, ironically it's the US market that mightn't get to see the product for quite a while. At least, if the US Department of Justice and around a dozen States' attorneys get their way. Their initial blocking action is believed to be part of a much larger, much longer action claiming that Microsoft is anti-competitive.

As you know, much of this unrest surrounds Microsoft's decision to ship Internet Explorer as a key component in Windows 98. It's a key component in that it's integrated into the way 98 works. Despite the fact that users can install and use other Web browsers instead of Explorer, many people obviously want Microsoft to completely unbundle it.

If the block does happen, depending on how long it takes to resolve, the result will be disastrous for many sectors of the US channel. There are two main reasons for this: loss of immediate sales opportunities and a flow-on effect for new products that are meant to capitalise on Win 98.

Summer is traditionally a quiet time for computer sales in the US, and most retailers were looking to Win 98 to provide a healthy jump in revenue. Not only did they expect to sell millions of copies of the software itself, but surveys show many home and business buyers have put off buying new PCs and peripherals over the past few months, preferring to buy a new system that not only comes with Win 98 installed, but is suitably spec'd with features such as USB.

Likewise, many peripherals manufacturers have new Win 98-compatible products ready to roll. And in some cases, the products will ONLY work with Windows 98. This will be the first time USB has been a viable option for general PC users, and there are many new cameras, sound systems, scanners, printers and so on that will only run on for them to sell, the new operating system must be out on the market in a big way.

Even large corporate and government buyers will probably hold off some new purchases, simply because any uncertainty hanging over the industry will scare them. This has happened every time a major product has been delayed, or there has been some reported problem with it.

Assuming there'll be no delay in shipping Win 98 in Australia, probably the worst we'll see is a delay in releasing some new hardware and software products, as vendors wait until the coast is clear in the US. Presumably the only things to be worried about are how buggy the product will be, and how big a support headache it will produce when systems that worked fine under Win 95 stop working under Win 98.

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