20th Anniversary of Windows 98 Operating System

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Microsoft’s Flagship Operating System – Windows 98.

While Windows 98 was not their first OS, it is considered to be their first release that was accepted as a standard for graphic interfaces on the Intel (IBM) platform.  Prior to 98 was Windows 95 and several non-os versions that ran on Microsoft’s DOS.


The concept of a graphic operating system was nothing new at this time – the first commercial one being a product by Xerox PARC in the 1970s.  The concept itself began Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a military project, in the 1950’s. This project was an early network that compiled information from multiple computers into a single unified image of airspace over a wide area.  SAGE directed and controlled the NORAD response to a Soviet air attack.


What did the operating system world look like in 1998?


At the time the market was a lot more crowded than it is now.  The standard was Apple Computers Macintosh which was a graphical computer from the ground up – and released more than 10 years earlier in 1984.  There were also offerings from a number of other companies including Commodore, Atari, and Sinclair. Each had its own unique software and operating system and was proprietary unto itself.  By the end of the decade the only survivors would be Microsoft and Apple. In addition to the birth of the modern operating system 1998 was the year another company known as Google was incorporated.


What has changes are seen in the operating system(s) of today?  


In the 20 years since Windows 98 we have seen a lot of changes on both the Apple and Windows operating systems, but a lot has stayed the same too.


One of the driving influences of change was a competition between hardware and software.  Microsoft would push the limits of hardware and then hardware would change to keep up. This process would lead to create faster microchips, multi core CPU’s and completely new technology like solid state storage.   This faster, smaller footprint for saving data lead the way to our modern smartphones and flash drives. This push of both hardware and software to upgrade the other continues through this day.


While the look of the operating system itself has changed to a more modern interface capable of multitasking and touch screen, the basic functions have remained the same.  


In 2018 you still have a “Start” button.  This is a feature that most of us wanted to keep.  If you remember when the attempt was made to remove this in Windows 8, it lead to the downfall of that operating system.  That, and the fact that it didn’t work right.


In 2018 you still have basic commands like Copy and Paste that work as a standard, most of the time, across all software.  


In 2018 the windows themselves on both Microsoft’s and Apple’s products work with the X to close the window along with other controls.   This layout dates back to the 1980’s and was mimicked by other operating systems that have come and gone including the Atari Computer 520ST and IBM’s OS/2 released in 1987 and last updated in 2001.    This type of environment was added to Linux, which powers most of the Internet, in the 1990’s in a product called “X Windows”.


What has been the biggest influence of change in operating systems since the release of Windows?


While hardware and other needs have pushed updates, the biggest influence has been by far  the Internet’s World Wide Web. A concept that was invented in 1991 and was not native to Windows 3 or 95 and would become a key part of Windows 98.  


Prior to the Web the focus of a computer was storing information on it’s own by using technology like hard drives and floppy discs.  Information sharing was unusual and networking expensive. If you wanted to provide something to a friend or college you would put it on a disc and physically hand it to them or use a modem to transmit the file over phone lines.  A function that can still be found in Windows, which is a terminal that can be used to contact modem based online systems to share content.


The most used function of the Internet, e-mail, did exist in a limited form prior to modern networks.  Again this required the use of a modem to connect to a host computer over the phone and post the message.  This was then picked up on that host computer locally by the recipient calling in or delivered remotely in which then the e-mail would get transmitted over a series of additional phone based computers to a destination.  An early example of this was Fido Net. The delivery of an e-mail wasn’t instant like now. It could take an hour or longer to get from point a to point b.


Can you use a Windows 98 computer operating system in 2018?


In short – YES.   In fact you can still buy new equipment with Windows 98 today.  While it’s not supported by Microsoft, and hasn’t been for many years now, it is still very much out there and usable.


You can see what Windows 98 and other legacy software was like through the Internet.  One such site is https://copy.sh/v86/?profile=windows98   Check it out in your browser and you will get the full experience of an era gone by.   You will notice that the simulated Windows desktop is a very small part of your screen.  The reason for this is that monitor resolutions have increased greatly in the last 20 years.  The simulation would of been a full screen CRT monitor in 1998.


Check out the online services of the era – CompuServe, America Online and Prodigy are featured.


William (Bill) Sikkens has been a technology expert for KXL on the Morning Show with Steve and Rebecca since 2014. With an expertise in I.T., cyber security and software design he has had more than 20 years’ experience with advanced technology. Sikkens conceptualizes and designs custom applications for many professional industries from health care to banking and has the ability to explain the details in a way all can understand.  Article edited by Gretchen Winkler.

Please note that links provided are for information only and are not endorsed by Alpha Media, KXL or William Sikkens.

Got a technology question or comment for Bill? Follow him on Twitter @sikkensw



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