operating systems

Blanks in the table in this document mean I didn't note, not that an offering didn't include the feature; where I did note, I have put "no".

This was last revised 2003-10-11, so if reading much after April, be aware it's incorrect!
Figures shown thus were noted2003-8-16 inLondon - were the lowest I found - allow ~ 10-15% margin;
thus 2003-3-8
thus 2002-10-19
(as shown)
(various places) and've probably dropped more.

The operating system (software)

Windows 95 CD version numbers: 000-59944
2.1 (USB)
X03-525992.5 (USB + IE4.01)
(See below for notes on headings)
nameversion CD withprice comments
Windows for Workgroups yeson floppies 25 (2002-5-25 Chelmsford)with DOS 6.2
Windows 95 £15 book only
on floppies £25
OSR 2.1yes £19.99 produced in late 1997.
2.5 £20 2 CDs
Windows 98 £35 similar to '95 plus Internet Explorer 4
(IE6 is now free).
SE (latest)yes £45
nameversion CD withprice comments
(Windows) NT4yes £15
£2 service pack 6A only
Windows xpHome thin. £79.99 to service pack A1
Professional £120
125 to service pack A1

explanation of column headings:

name and version number

Originally (taking IBM PCs and compatibles here, and only Microsoft operating systems), there was DOS, a command line interface (i. e. you typed instructions at it); a graphical user interface (GUI) was written, to - allegedly! (and, probably, in reality as well, at least for newcomers to computing) - make computing easier. This was called Windows, and ran as a program under DOS. DOS developed through many versions, with 3.3 being about the first really useful, with significant improvements in 5 (4 was an oddity), and some useful enhancements in 6. The last released on its own was 6.22. The first Windows that was not more bother than it was worth was arguably 3.0, with 3.1 the one whose basic appearance and character was dominant for some time (with minor enhancements, known variously as Windows for Workgroups, Windows 3.11, etcetera).
Windows 9x and Windows NT (New Technology!) - the latter often being known as just NT - came next. NT was originally developed for use in a more controlled environment, such as business use - things like multiple users (each with their own configuration and password), and is more of an operating system in itself, rather than being just a GUI sitting on top of a command line operating system. Up to version 3.51, NT looked like the old Windows 3.1x, though it was very different underneath; from version 4, it shared the user interface of Windows 9x. Windows 9x - originally Windows 95 - was still to some extent a GUI program running on top of a command line operating system, though this was less obvious than on the old DOS/Windows 3.1x combinations. It was developed originally for the home user, and finally appeared a little after NT (hence NT having the older appearance to start with). Later, the distinction became somewhat blurred - a few home users use NT, and quite a lot of business users use 9x, whose use with multiple users, centralised configuration control, and so on, was enhanced a little. Windows 9x started with the original version of 95, then version 2 (which was mainly a bug-fixed version, though with minor improvements along the way such as better handling of large hard discs); version 2.1 includes USB support (version 2.0 isn't really findable), and 2.5 is identical to 2.1 other than having Internet Explorer 4 included. Then we got Windows 98; the last edition of '98 (known as 98SE [for Second Edition], and the only update widely issued for '98) came out around mid-1999. Windows "Millennium Edition" (also called "Me") managed to squeeze out quite late in 2000, and still has a '9x core.

There was going to be an NT5, but this was renamed Windows 2000 (and released early in 2000). However, it is definitely in the NT line, not the '9x one (Me is '9x, though made to resemble '2000).

How to choose between '9x (which includes Me), NT4 (or 2000 [ignore earlier versions of NT]), or XP? NT is, on the whole, very stable (I use it at work), but overkill for home use, and a bit harder to configure, and some software and hardware don't work with it (e. g. NT4 doesn't support USB at all, though 2000 does). It also needs a more highly specified system (say, 64M RAM) to run happily, though any new machine should be capable. The Me version of '9x was on the whole not as bad as some people thought it would be, and many like it; the general consensus is that it is quite good if installed on a fresh system, but problematical if installed as an upgrade, but it is definitely slanted towards the home user, and has been to a large extent superseded by xp (see below). Later: now that all of these are seen as obsolescent or obsolete, consensus seems to be settling on 98SE being the best of the '9x line, and although 2000 is considered the best of the separate NT line, it didn't hold sway for long enough to be that widely used.

The long-awaited operating system that brought together the '9x and NT lines - Windows xp - received the usual mixed reception, but is now well established, and certainly the only operating system available on new packaged machines. It works best on new hardware. It also has an anti-piracy feature called activation; when installed, it notes the hardware configuration and serial number of some of the hardware components, and generates a string of characters which must be complemented by another string of characters obtained from Microsoft (either via MoDem or over the 'phone); if this is not done, it ceases to function after a short while. If more than a certain amount of the hardware in the system is changed, it is assumed that an attempt is being made to run it on a second machine, and again it ceases to function, though there is a time-out - i. e. components can be changed, as long as it is not done too fast. It can also be reactivated (i. e. straight away) by contacting Microsoft, if you can convince them that you are indeed not running it on a second machine.

what's included in the price?

DOS, Windows 3.x, and the first Windows 95, were supplied on normal floppy discs; Windows 95 was also available on a CD-ROM. All later versions come on CD only. With the CD or floppies, you may receive a booklet, giving some brief help on the operating system and the software supplied with it; many people also feel more assured that what they have is a legitimate copy if the booklet is included, especially if, as it usually does, it has some sort of certificate attached. (In fact, Microsoft say in the licence conditions that, in the case of some versions - in particular 95 OSR 2 - it is only a legal copy if bought with certain specified hardware, such as a new PC, hard drive, or motherboard, and then only if in a prescribed manner; I take no responsibility either way here!) When you buy the operating system on CD, and want to install it on a new system, you will need drivers for your CD-ROM drive - only a few very recent motherboards can use a CD-ROM drive from cold. Such a "boot disc" - i. e. a floppy disc that can be used to start the system, and containing CD-ROM drive drivers - is not hard to create if you have access to another system; the drivers, at least, may have been supplied with your CD-ROM drive, though they tend not to be these days. Some of the packages shown above come with a suitable "startup disk" (shown in the column headed "floppy").


I did see a '95 OSR2 CD (just the CD, no booklet or floppies) for £6 on 1999-9-11, and ('95) books with licence only for £8 on 2002-3-9.