To Upgrade Windows -- The Pros and Cons

Dennis Faas's picture

A few weeks ago, I was called to do an upgrade on an older, Pentium 200 (P200) MHz computer. The P200 was equipped with an old-style scanner that used a special interface. After a few years of good use, the scanner died and needed to be replaced. Since the Pentium 200 did not come equipped with a USB interface (universal serial bus), shopping for a new scanner was difficult. The options were to buy an old-style scanner which used the Parallel Port (Printer Port) as its interface - but this was not a viable option because it was extremely slow and would not meet the demand in an office environment. Pondering the situation, I opted to buy a USB add-on card for the ailing P200 which was running Windows 95.

As I made my way to the check out counter, the sales person at the computer store stopped and asked me "is this USB card for a Windows 98 machine?" I answered, "No -- it's for an older computer with Windows 95." He quickly pointed out that only Windows 98 and higher had USB capability and that I would have to upgrade the P200 system to Windows 98 if I wanted to use the new scanner and USB add-on card.

Not a big deal.

I finished installing Windows 98, the add-on card, and new scanner. A week later, the owner called me and had me come back to look at the sickly P200 machine. He asked me the question, "Why does this computer take so long to load all of the sudden?" My answer to him was simply, "Every time Microsoft develops a new product -- or an update to an existing product -- you practically need a new computer to run it."

Disappointed in my answer, the man shook his head. Why is this so?

To understand this question earnestly, we need to know a bit of Microsoft Windows history. When Windows 3.1 was developed (before Windows 95), the operating system was able to fit on 6 floppy disks. Because of its physical size, did not require much processing power. Windows 3.1 was a very simple operating system and offered primitive multi-tasking functionality which allowed the user to run more than one program at the same time -- something that is very common place today. An example of multitasking would be: running your Internet browser and word processor at the same time.

Following the development of Windows 3.1, Windows 95 was launched on August 24, 1995. There were many bug fixes, enhancements, and add-ons compared to Windows 3.1. Overall, Windows 95 was considered a Microsoft milestone because its look and feel was very different; most importantly, it offered a gateway to the Internet. But what did the development of Windows 95 mean to the home computer users back in 1995?

First of all, Windows 95 would not run on an Intel 80386 processor with processing speeds of 16, 25, and 40 MHz -- this was much too slow. 386 computers commonly equipped with 4 megabytes of RAM -- which was plenty of room for Windows 3.1 -- could not run Windows 95. Windows 95 needed at least an Intel 80486 (486, or compatible) processor with a minimum 16 megabytes of RAM to function. Does this sound familiar?

Three years later -- September 1998 -- Windows 98 was launched and required even more processing power than its predecessor, Windows 95. Both operating systems ran the same software, but Windows 98 boasted "more compatibility and ease of use, with USB functionality". Windows 98 also required a bigger, faster computer.

Are you beginning to see the pattern?

It is for this reason that every time Microsoft develops a new product or an update to an existing product, a faster computer is needed. Take for example: Windows Media Player. Media Player was first developed on Windows 95 and didn't offer much other than playing simple media files (.AVI and .MPG). Now, Windows Media Player is a massive component to the Windows Operating system and is highly integrated with Internet Explorer -- which is also tightly knit to the operating system. The new Media Player comes equipped with free streaming Internet media, Internet radio, screen effects, plays multiple media types, and has the ability to accept future plug-ins. All of these extra features add up to additional overhead, which requires additional processing power.

Not a big deal, right? Wrong. Microsoft has a history of forcing people to upgrade their computers to use Microsoft's new operating system. Remember the USB dilemma? In order to use the new scanner, I needed USB. In order to use USB, I needed Windows 98. In order to run Windows 98, I need to get a faster computer.

My point is this: if you're thinking about upgrading to a new version of Windows -- no matter if you're moving from 95 to 98, from 98 to ME, 2000 or XP -- you should also think seriously about its reciprocating effects, considering you may need to purchase a new computer. And I don't see this pattern changing any time soon.

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