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Friday, 24 April, 1998, 09:28 GMT 10:28 UK
A blue window on the world at Comdex
gates
The defenestration of Gates; Windows 98 went West
One of the biggest computer shows of the year will be remembered not for Microsoft's vision of a future dominated by Windows products, but for a blue screen supposedly from the operating system's past and dreaded by every computer user.

Spring Comdex in Chicago, combined with Windows World and Expo Comm USA, attracted some 85,000 visitors this week. The first few thousand were queuing well in advance on Monday morning to hear the convention's opening speech - by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

It outlined an MS White Paper released the same day called Integration, Innovation and the PC: How the Integration of New Features and Services in the Microsoft Windows Operating System Benefits Developers and Consumers.

As the title suggests, it turned out to be a thinly veiled version of the defence Microsoft is mounting to the Justice Department's investigation of its allegedly monopolistic practices.

Why chase the golden goose?

Microsoft argues Internet Explorer is an integrated part of Windows 95 and so does not violate a 1995 decree that bars it from bundling products with the operating system.

After Tuesday's hearing in Washington for final arguments, it feels the Appeal Court judges are leaning towards its view. The company is also confident Windows 98 cannot be attacked in the same way, with access to the Internet integrated in the new version.

But, with the Justice Department continuing to request documentation from Microsoft on several products, the company fears a wider anti-trust suit.

This, then, is the reason behind the chairman's message that Microsoft is pursuing the American Way of attempting to innovate while giving customers what they want. Microsoft is a great success story and seems to be arguing: why try to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?

Going nowhere now

But Bill Gates had no defence when Windows 98 crashed during a demonstration of its greater "performance and reliability" and "support for a new generation of hardware".

While trying to show the benefits of attaching a scanner to the Universal Serial Bus (USB), the old blue "System not responding" screen came up as the OS crashed. "That must be why we're not shipping Windows 98 out yet," quipped Mr Gates.

The incident led to reports that Windows 98 might miss its June 25 deadline to go on sale and there was no sign of the already-delayed Windows NT 5.0, which Microsoft has great hopes for in the corporate world.

webcrawler
Web TV? No, a rival, Websurfer
On the other hand, there was no escaping Windows CE, the third-tier operating system for smaller devices.

A Futures pavilion showed off CE in the Auto PC - a car reading out e-mail and giving directions in response to voice commands - and in Web TV, which gives living-room access to the Internet.

It also featured in a mobile phone combined with a colour screen that helps makes airline reservations, in a personal organiser and a "slate" for children in classrooms of the future.

And the winner is...

Several awards went to the hottest products at the show, including Everex's Freestyle. One of many palm-top PCs, it looks much like 3Com's Pilot but is powered by, you guessed it, Windows CE.

linux
Who needs Windows when there's Linux?
Other highlights included Sony's 50-inch wide-screen computer monitor, costing under 5,000, along with better-resolution printers and digital cameras. There was also much discussion of Internet telephony.

The little guys were there too, of course. Supporters of the free operating system, Linux, were busy in a cluster of booths, publicising their own Expo next month. One woman was selling Cyber Eyes, a rear view mirror to warn office workers of the boss's approach.

opoly
Make your own Opoly: not another Microsoft product surely?
I fell for Make Your Own Opoly, a custom version of Monopoly where players use templates to print out personalised labels for cards, street names, boards and money.

Town-opoly, School-opoly, Client-opoly, Dad-opoly and Pet-opoly were among suggestions for other customised games. How about Microsoft-opoly? But the best bit, after the talk of resource-hogging future Windows, was in the small print: "Minimum requirements: a pen and scissors."

See also:

14 Apr 98 | Business
June launch for Windows 98
20 Apr 98 | Americas
Bill Gates crashes Windows 98
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