Alsop here, reporting from the battlefront in the PC OS wars. I've got to tell you, after a few weeks of using Windows 95 for real, it's looking pretty quiet on the front. The Macintosh and OS/2 brigades on the right and left flanks are losing platoonfuls of users. And the enemy, the Netscape and Sun brigades using that new Java weapon, seems to be perplexed by having to face the Java weapon and is having trouble finding its way through the FUD - er, fog.
What's really startling about Windows 95, to be honest, is how little we've discovered to complain about. Lots and lots of readers wrote to me when I admitted that I was switching from the Macintosh to Windows to point out the flaws in Windows. (Many also took the time to point out the flaws in my personality, intellect, and ethics, and to speculate on how much Bill Gates or Microsoft paid me to begin using Windows 95.) And what they came up with was not very damning. Configuration is a nightmare in Windows 95. There is no doubt about this, particularly compared with either Macintosh or OS/2. But the nightmare of configuration in Windows 95 is nowhere near the deep terror of trying to get things to work in Windows 3.1.
Windows 95 only looks bad if you still have to struggle with the old stuff. Many systems groups still treat Windows 3.1 as their standard operating system, and, as a result, only a few people have experience with configuring Windows 95, which makes those problems seem much bigger than they are. But once a systems department goes through the donnybrook of making Windows 95 the default, the truth is that configuring Windows 95 is actually less of a burden.
That said, Microsoft always ends up putting more features or complexity into a product when simplicity might have been the solution to the problem. The best example of this is trying to use what Microsoft refers to as Dial-up Networking. This system for establishing a remote connection to any kind of network, including the Internet, involves settings in four different control panels: Internet, Modems, PC Card, and Network. The initial process seems easy because Microsoft has set up a wizard to put all this stuff together, but if you need to change a setting, you have to figure out which component contains the setting and what impact that setting might have on any of a dozen other settings.
People also complain that Windows shortcuts frequently lose track of the original file they were pointing to. Based on my limited experience, I would expand this complaint to a more general observation that things happen in Windows 95 that are simply unexplainable. I created a PowerPoint presentation for a speech I gave recently. The second time I went to use it, it had forgotten which program created it. I hadn't installed any new software, so I couldn't blame the Installation wizard for letting another program grab its file association in the registry.
I have this visual image that sometimes all the gerbils running around inside the machine, taking care of all that operating system business, get distracted by some powerful gerbil event and forget to do their stuff. It's impossible to find out what they were doing at the time or to figure out what the trigger was, so you're left feeling that perhaps you're not entirely in charge of your own machine. You get to share your machine with the cybergerbils.
The truth is that Windows 95 actually works pretty well for a graphical, integrated, reasonably stable personal computer operating system. In other words, it satisfies that age-old test for system products from large, monopolistic enterprises: It's good enough.