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Happy birthday, you lumbering MS-DOS-based mess: Windows 98 turns 20 today

Rose-tinted spectacles ON. Nope, not doing anything

Windows 98 turns 20 today. However, rose-tinted spectacles still don't make a hybrid 16 and 32 bit OS tottering on top of MS-DOS any more appealing.

While Windows NT 4.0 pointed to a future free from MS-DOS, the majority of the Windows user base simply did not have the hardware to run much more than a jumped-up version of Windows 95. Thus Windows 98 appeared to bridge the gap.

Codenamed Memphis, the first beta of Windows 98 arrived in 1996 with the final Release To Manufacturing (RTM – remember those?) version appearing two years later. USB support came as standard (and memorably exploded live on stage) along with a range of functions intended as a nod to that World Wide Web thing. Applications such as Outlook Express, FrontPage Express and a personal web server appeared as part of the installation.

Windows 98 customers were also treated to the joy that was Internet Explorer 4.01, along with the Active Desktop, which allowed HTML content (such as news headlines) to be shown on the user's desktop at the cost of prodigious amounts of CPU and RAM. This integration of Internet Explorer with the operating system would come to haunt Microsoft in later years as anti-trust litigation kicked off in earnest the month before the OS launched.

Microsoft also quietly introduced the Windows Driver Model (WDM) in Windows 98 as a way to create drivers that would work over the software giant's disparate operating systems. Unlike the previous VxD model, which allowed a driver to stomp all over kernel memory, WDMs were somewhat better behaved and lived on to see the release of Windows Vista.

Windows 98 is regarded as the pinnacle of the Windows 9x era, with an update shipping the following year in the form of Windows 98 SE (Second Edition) including a number of minor enhancements such as the inclusion of Internet Explorer 5. The final iteration, the much derided Windows ME, arrived in 2000.

The best of Java, the worst of Java

The Windows 98 era also serves as a timely reminder that Microsoft was not always the caring, sharing behemoth it purports to be today. At the time, Microsoft trumpeted its Java implementation as being the fastest for Windows. However, a failure to implement the Java 1.1 standard to the satisfaction of Sun Microsystems, the creator of Java, led to a sueball being lobbed in 1997.

Evidence of Microsoft's attempts to kill off competition by polluting Java was also cited in the anti-trust case that would come to dominate Redmond's thoughts over the coming years.

As part of the eventual settlement with Sun in 2001, Microsoft agreed to kill off Windows 98 and Windows ME. Support finally ended in 2006.

With Windows 98, Microsoft cemented its position as the dominant player in the personal computing industry. However, in the midst of its self-congratulatory antics and self-inflicted legal troubles, it entirely failed to notice something else happen in 1998. A company, operating out of a garage in California, was incorporated. Its name was Google. ®


Longtime readers will also note that 1998 saw The Register lumber online. El Reg has continued to bite the hand that feeds IT ever since.

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