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Byte

At a briefing earlier this year, a Microsoft executive was pressed to generalise on the main improvements in Windows 95 over its predecessor, Windows 3.1. "Basically, it makes your PC much more like an Apple Mac," he ventured. Flattering for Apple, but not something you were likely to pick up from last week's launch hype.

The significance of Windows 95 is its greater ease of use, as Microsoft papers over yet more of that mother of all operating systems, MS-Dos. Known as MS-Dross to its critics, its impenetrable command lines and weird suffixes helped put most well-adjusted people off computers and meant that information technology of the IBM and compatible variety was handed over at an early stage to the techies by default. Windows 3.1 bolted on the easier-to-use graphics, icons and mouse that were already familiar to people using other computers, especially Apple and Acorn in education.

While people who need to use IBM and compatibles will broadly welcome Windows 95, there is a price to pay over and above the Pounds 130 to Pounds 140 for the program (Pounds 70 to upgrade from Windows 3.1). For many people, that will mean upgrading their computer or even buying a new one.

Realistically, the minimum standard machine would be a PC 486DX (66 megahertz) with at least 8 megabytes of memory but preferably 16, and a 500-megabyte hard disc. The best approach for newcomers to PCs would probably be to buy a new Pentium with the software already installed.

What is worrying Microsoft's rivals is how Windows 95 reveals its strategy to dominate the desktop computer market. It prepares the way for new users to connect to the Microsoft Network, giving the company the potential to move into communications in a big way, and quickly. The USgovernment is investigating.

The Microsoft juggernaut rumbles on but fails, in education, to impress the seasoned Apple and Acorn users. Windows 95? "Mac 89," is the most frequent response.

Windows 95 will be reviewed on the ComputersIT page on September 15

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