Windows 98 works better than Windows 95 in dozens of ways, but the one that matters most is its enhanced stability. However, it's hardly crash-proof.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

Windows 98: Stable and fast, as well as 'new and improved'

March 29, 1998

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

   Microsoft performed an unusual feat in its test version of Windows 98. The company made the beta version of Windows 98 more stable than the current version of Windows 95.
   Beta software -- "beta" means it's still being tested -- is always buggy in one way or another. (That's why it's "beta," a term programmers use for unfinished software.) But it's highly unusual to produce a beta program that works better than the thoroughly tested software it replaces.
   Windows 98, which is likely to be publicly available in late June, works better in dozens of ways, but the one that matters most is its enhanced stability. It's hardly crash-proof -- anyone can make a Microsoft program of any kind misbehave by trying hard enough -- but it's a paragon of temperance compared to its weak-willed predecessor. In many ways, Windows 98 seems as solid and crash resistant as its high-priced cousin, the industrial-strength Windows NT.
   Some of this comes from improved program code in the main portions of the Windows 98 operating system, and some of it results from seemingly minor changes in the way Windows 98 does other things. (One change, for example, lets Windows handle the all-important Registry better.) A big help is the way the different parts of Windows 98 work together: Unlike the current version of Windows 95, which Microsoft heavily patched to fix problems, Windows 98 has all the improved code in place, working properly from the start.
   Under Windows 95, my PC sometimes froze up when I was doing many things at once while connected to the Internet. This has not yet happened under Windows 98, even though I've tried to set up the same situation many times. I've also noticed that PC-to-PC networking runs more smoothly under Windows 98 -- a good sign for the coming introduction of cable Internet connections, which actually use a form of high-speed networking rather than the standard method of low-speed modem linkups.
   Other ways that Windows 98 behaves better and shows better integration than Windows 95:
  • The Start Menu is no longer Mystery Meat. You can drag anything onto and out of any part of it, and you can rearrange it easily. You can also right-click any item in the Start Menu for options.
  • Logging on and off the PC makes more sense. You'll have a better chance of creating separate desktops and menus for different users of the same PC.
  • Folder windows are much more informative, and seem to save their settings better. You can also drag an icon for a program, document or Web site to the Links bar of a folder window to make your own toolbar.
  • The Taskbar seems more complicated, but users who remember to click the right mouse button will find it a delight. Slide-out sections can contain any shortcuts; you simply drag icons to the Taskbar.
  • The Task Scheduler, known as System Agent in Windows 95, is about as advanced as such a program can be. It's easier to use and more flexible than System Agent.

   Dozens of other improvements come to mind, but Windows 98 does have a few annoyances. Here's a short list:
  • There's no way to change the way the Start Menu opens. Items slide out horizontally, and scroll vertically if you have too many to fit on the screen. I'd like an option that would bring back the older pop-out method, which was faster.
  • There's still no built-in way to control the priority of a Windows program. (You can control the priority -- the amount of attention a program receives from the operating system -- of a DOS program, but not a Windows program.) This function is already built into Windows, but Microsoft has not provided a priority-change mechanism within the standard Windows 98 options.