Windows 98 looks and feels just like the previous version, which might not help sell the product, but will help with training. Beginners will find a raft of utilities to keep the machine in shape and an easy-to-understand multimedia tutorial. For the stand-alone machines around a school, a maintenance "wizard" can schedule file back-ups and disk tuning.
There is also a system information tool which makes checks, does repairs and yields valuable advice - as well as adds about 30 per cent more disk space.
It also includes a "software update" feature that can pop out to the Internet periodically, check to see what tweaks are necessary and upgrade the machine transparently. All software producers, local authorities and even OFSTED should be able to exploit this feature in keeping us up to date.
The key word is Internet, because Windows 98 is mostly about that. Built in are Internet Explorer 4 and Outlook Express, both capable tools that browse the Web and read email.
There are still numerous places in which you can send email or get to the Internet. The many ways of looking at your data - by showing it as thumbnails in its folder, or dragging on to the browser - is the subject of books, though some call it intuition. There are many ways of customising the system which could cause confusion on shared machines. Setting up personalised log-ins will keep your space separate. Security on very public machines remains an issue, so extra software, like that on RM's Window Box machines, seems essential.
Windows 98 also supports the Universal Serial Bus sockets found on today's machines, which make it easy to plug in and immediately play with scanners, digital cameras and speakers.
So should you upgrade when most of the Internet features are available free when you add Internet Explorer 4 to Windows 95? If you can live without the new hardware or maintenance features, you can stay as you are. But those with a persistently snagging machine or in need of more disk space are likely to succumb to the temptation.
Roger Frost Microsoft Windows 98 minimum specification: 66MHz 486 processor with 16Mb random access memory. Single copy for education users Pounds 59.99; full price Pounds 137, upgrade Pounds 72. Internet Explorer 4 upgrade to Windows 95 is free from most Internet service providers and magazine CDs.