After Windows 95, there was Windows 98. Microsoft’s operating system had conquered the world in its previous iteration, and now it was time for the Redmond tech giant to cement its lead and make itself the de facto king of the software world. Of course, that isn’t quite what happened, but Windows 98 was an extremely solid offering nonetheless, and it pioneered a fair few things in its own quiet way. Here are 17 things that you may not have known about the popular workhorse that was the followup to Windows 95.
1. Windows 98 had “that” infamous demonstration
If there’s one thing the public remembers about Windows 98, it’s the demonstration Microsoft gave about extended Plug and Play support on the OS. At the Comdex computer expo in Chicago, Bill Gates and then-CMO Chris Capossela were showing off what Windows 98 could do. Capossela connected a peripheral to Windows 98, which then proceeded to crash. Gates recovered well, but it was a goof nonetheless.
2. Internet Explorer came bundled with Windows 98
Unlike Windows 95, which didn’t include a pack-in version of the Internet Explorer browser, Microsoft saw fit to include this software with its 1998 operating system. This led to a lawsuit which alleged that Microsoft was attempting to expand and consolidate a monopoly by putting other internet browser services out of business. Today, Edge is included with Windows, and the market has changed significantly.
3. Windows 98 was marketed as a tune-up
Rather than being a complete overhaul, Windows 98 was marketed as more of a “tune-up” to the existing Windows 95 operating system. That’s why the aesthetic and general functionality of Windows 98 is very similar to its predecessor; this wasn’t intended as a new, fresh experience, but as a refinement of everything Windows 95 was already doing. In that regard, it’s hard to see Windows 98 as anything but a success.
4. Windows 98 was intended to feel like using the internet
As part of its Internet Explorer integration, Windows 98 also included lots of interface changes that were meant to make the OS feel more like browsing the web. You could find links embedded in system elements, for example, that would take you to support pages, and you could even have widgets displayed on the desktop that took information directly from the internet.
5. Windows Update started with Windows 98
Although Windows Update is a very controversial part of the Windows operating system today, it was first introduced back in the Windows 98 days. The version of Windows Update bundled with Windows 98 was pretty basic, and was essentially a web browser that showed you which updates were available and where you could download them from. Still, it was a useful service for those who needed to download updates, and was arguably better than manually searching for said updates.
6. Windows 98 added the Disk Cleanup utility
With lots of different programs available for Windows 98, as well as lots of different files that needed to be downloaded and stored, hard drives could get pretty cluttered. That’s where Disk Cleanup came in. It was introduced to Windows with the 98 edition, and allowed you to rid your PC of temporary files that had been downloaded during other processes. Disk Cleanup is still available on Windows PCs today, although it’s a much more advanced and sophisticated program than it used to be, of course.
7. An upgrade added more features to Windows 98 in 1999
An updated version of Windows 98 was released in 1999. This version was called Windows 98 SE (Second Edition), and it added a bunch more features including expanded compatibility for peripherals and better networking capabilities. Windows 98 SE also brought DVD-ROM compatibility, as well as general speed and performance improvements over Windows 98. Today, this would most likely be released as a substantial free Windows update.
8. Windows 98 was codenamed “Memphis” in development
Just like every other major Windows operating system release, Windows 98 had a codename during development. This codename was “Memphis”, in keeping with other Windows codenames, which all referred to American cities. Windows 95’s codename, for example, was Chicago, while a prospective Windows 95 upgrade called Windows 96 (which was subsequently cancelled) bore the codename of Nashville.
9. Windows 98’s system requirements were serious (at the time)
Today, Windows 98’s system requirements seem hilarious. At the time, however, the operating system asked for four times the RAM of Windows 95, and required around 70MB more storage space than its predecessor, which was a big deal at the time. Windows 98 needed 16MB of RAM (not GB, but MB), a drive with around 190MB of storage space, and a VGA monitor with at least a 640×480 resolution.
10. Windows 98 sold pretty darn well
Estimates suggest that within its first year of operation, Windows 98 managed to sell around 15 million licenses, which puts it at about 2 million more sold than Windows 95 within the same time period. Many decided not to upgrade to Windows 98 and were still happy using Windows 95, but for the most part, the computer market of the late 1990s appears to have embraced Windows 98 wholeheartedly.
11. Windows XP’s version of Office is compatible with Windows 98
Even if you bought Office XP – the version of Microsoft Office intended to be used with Windows XP – you could still use the software with Windows 98. It was actually the final version of Microsoft’s office suite that was compatible with Windows 98, as the Redmond company discontinued 98 just one year after Office XP’s arrival. Other components from more recent Microsoft operating systems could be installed, too, with the right technical knowhow.
12. Windows 98 launched, appropriately enough, in June 1998
As you might expect, Windows 98 arrived in – you guessed it – 1998. There were suggestions that the then-ongoing lawsuit revolving around Microsoft’s packaging of Internet Explorer with Windows would cause a delay to the launch date of Windows 98, but this proved not to be the case, and Windows 98 launched on schedule after several successful beta tests (disastrous on-stage demonstration notwithstanding).
13. Windows 98 wasn’t the last DOS-based Windows
You might see people saying that Windows 98 was the final operating system based on the DOS system. It wasn’t, though; that was Windows Millennium Edition (or Windows Me), released in 2000. After that, Microsoft would make the jump to Windows XP, which no longer booted via an automatic DOS prompt in the same way that Windows 95 and Windows 98 both did.
14. Microsoft sold “Windows 98 Plus” packs for extra stuff
If you wanted to supercharge your Windows 98 experience, you could purchase the Microsoft Plus! For Windows 98 pack. Inside, you’d find new screensavers, extra wallpapers, and some fun software to help you make the most of Windows 98. Microsoft would continue to sell these Plus! packs until Windows Vista, when the name was changed (but the essence of the idea remained the same).
15. Windows 98 had a physical RAM limit
Much like other operating systems at the time, Windows 98 had upper limits on what kind of hardware you could use with it. You could only incorporate around 1.5GB of RAM into your computer before Windows 98 started to malfunction. Similarly, a hard drive that topped out above around 130-140GB would have trouble running Windows 98. Microsoft simply didn’t program the OS with hardware like that in mind, because most people weren’t running anything close to it.
Before Windows 98, if you wanted to return to a previous folder, doing so was rather cumbersome. With the advent of 98, however, Microsoft added back and forward buttons to its operating system so that you could more easily navigate through the chain of commands you’d just given to Windows. This is now such a ubiquitous system that every single Windows operating system, as well as most other apps, use it.
17. Windows 98 support ended in 2006
Originally, Microsoft intended to end extended support for Windows 98 in 2003. However, due to “emergent markets” picking up the operating system and using it en masse, the company delayed the end of Windows 98 repeatedly, first moving it to 2004 and eventually settling on 2006 as a final date to lay the operating system to rest. Microsoft made good on this last promise, but Windows 98 still enjoys a reputation as an underrated and widely-used operating system to this day (although hopefully nobody is still using it!).
These are just some of the interesting things about Windows 98. We didn’t get too far into the nerdy weeds; we could have talked about driver standards and networking implementation for hours, but we settled on the stuff that’s not impenetrable to understand. Is Windows 98 your favourite operating system? Did you upgrade to it at the time? Was this era of computing before your day?
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