The New Windows 95

[Note: This was originally written for "The IS News", the internal newsletter on the Information Systems Department for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center]

Yep, just as many of us are just starting to deal with Windows 95, Microsoft is preparing a new release. Fortunately, it's mainly the "same old" Win95 with some new features added, so everything you've learned so far about it is still good.

It goes by the flashy name of "Microsoft Windows 95 Original Equipment Manufactures Service Release #2". So, now you're probably asking "So, what's that mean, and what's in it for me?" Glad you asked— Let's start with the name. "Original Equipment Manufactures", usually abbreviated OEM, refers to vendors that build PCs, and here means that they're the only one's that will be getting this update --- You won't be able to buy it in a store. The only way to get it is to buy a whole new computer, and find it installed on it. But, presumably, MSKCC will be buying some new computers in the future, so you should know what it expect.

A "Service Release" is just a minor change to correct something they missed in the first release. Normally, it's the "bug-fix" version, which was what Service Release #1" was. SR#2, while including all the bug-fixes from #1, also added the ability to deal with new kinds of hardware. Since most of these new types of devices will be factory-installed, they of little use to people who already own a PC, which is why it's only going to OEMs.

OK, so what's changed? The biggest news is the it now supports "FAT32", and understanding what that is will require you to know more about disk formatting than you ever wanted to know. I'll try to hit the highlights as quickly & as painlessly as possible. Now, in the dim & distant past, when PCs only had floppies, they used a system called FAT12 to store information on them. This divided all the space on the disk into 4096 pieces (called "Clusters"), and one cluster was (and still is) the smallest amount of space allocated to a file.

The extra space between the end of a file and the end of a cluster was just wasted. Since a floppy holds at most 1.4MB, a cluster was only 512 bytes, the waste was small, and everyone was happy. As hard disks were added, clusters got bigger, and the waste grew: For a 20MB hard disk (remember them?), the cluster size was 8K, which wasted 4K on average for every file --- more, if you had lots of tiny files. So, they solved the problem by introducing "FAT16" back in 1988. This carved the hard disk up in to 65536 clusters, so the size of each one could shirk. With FAT16, a 20MB could use the 512 byte cluster size that floppies had been sporting for years, and a hard disk had to be over 256MB before the cluster size reached 8K..

Well, as you might have noticed, in the last couple years, hard disk sizes exploded and no one has a puny 256MB disk anymore. I'm writing this on a machine with 700MB hard disk, which using 16K clusters. All tolled, it's wasting about 1/10th the entire hard disk. A drive larger than 1 Gigabyte uses a cluster size of 32K, doubling the waste. And a drive over 2 GBs would need 64K clusters, except that FAT16 can't handle drives over 2 GBs. This is a problem, since many new machines will come with hard disks over 2GB standard in the coming months.

So, enter FAT32. Now we can divide a drive up into over 2 million clusters, and a cluster doesn't get bigger than a rather manageable 4K until the drive exceeds 8GBs. That should hold us for a few more years.

Bottom line — It will now take you slightly longer to fill up your hard disk.

Other hardware improvement — Support for 32-bit PCMICA cards, power management, and PCI docking, all of which you'll probably only have to deal with on a laptop.

You'll be able to change your screen resolution and color depth without having to reboot, plus Windows now includes Microsoft's "ActiveMovie" which allows you to play MPEG and Apple's QuickTime movies on your screen (in addition to the AVI movie files which the old Win95 played)

And, of course, Microsoft has gotten into the Internet in a big way, so that involvement is reflected here. The Service Release comes with Microsoft's latest web browser, Internet Explorer 3.0. While arguments rage over the relative merits of IE3 versus Netscape's new Navigator 3.0, most people agree IE3, which includes support for frames, Java, JavaScript, and Visual Basic Script, is better that Navigator 2.0, which is what we use here at MSKCC.

Microsoft also throws in "Internet News" for reading USENET newsgroups off the Internet, and Internet Mail (However, the latter doesn't seem to working with cc:Mail, so it's not much use to us here).

Plus, it has Netmeeting, which allows audio/video conferencing across a network. I've haven't seen this in action yet, but does have some interesting potentials for uses here (especially since some of us are 30 blocks for the main building)

And, as an added bonus, it also has a personal web page server, and I'll leave to you to imagine the possibilities of every person here having their own web home page up on our network.

Copyright © 1996, James M. Curran

Revised: 24-Mar-2014