Windows Operating SystemTo me, the operating system is just the thing that lets everything else run. If it's staying out of the way and not causing any trouble then it's doing most of what I want. Usually I'm not hung up at all on getting the latest and greatest version of Windows, and could stretch out my "six-month rule of delayed acquisition" much longer for the operating system, maybe until the first service pack comes out ("service pack" is the name given to a collection of fixes), or the "Second Edition". There are good reasons for waiting. Any brand new sophisticated software package, such as a Windows operating system, will be buggy. Another reason is to give all that software and hardware that's designed to work with Windows a chance to be fully field trialed and updated.
In addition, a re-tooled operating system will likely need updated drivers and it will take a while for compatible drivers to become common place. When an operating system has been out less than six months, don't be surprised if the hardware comes packaged with device drivers that either do not work at all under the new edition of the operating system or work poorly under the new edition. In most cases, this should not be a show-stopper issue. The latest version of the driver retrieved from the manufacturer's web-site is often the best available, and there should be a version that works for new editions of an operating system. But do be careful with "blowout" software deals since they may be old packages developed without the current edition of Windows in mind. When purchasing software, just make sure the box states it works under the Windows edition you have.
Today's PC's use a 64-bit hardware architecture. While 64-bit hardware, meaning the processor and motherboard, are mature and proven components, the full benefit of 64-bit cannot be realized without an operating system that supports it and with applications that use it. The software, meaning the operating system, applications, and device drivers, took much longer to become a practical option. Even so, donít be surprised if there are difficulties and annoyances that do not exist in the 32-bit software counterparts.
Windows 7Windows 7 has been very successful and is considered a high-quality product. Itís the first version of a Windows operating system that Iíve been willing to give 64-bit a try. The edition I have in My Super PC is Windows 7 Home Premium. The chart below summarizes the differences in the Windows 7 editions. (capture table at the link below and post).
Windows VistaThere are three models of Windows Vista best suited for home desktop computers. The Home Edition, the Premium Edition and the Ultimate Edition. Each is important in terms of the minimum hardware needed to run it and the features that it provides. For most PC builders using Windows Vista the Home Premium Edition is the one to get. Windows Vista was not readily adopted over Windows XP due to compatibility and performance issues.
Windows XP Operating SystemWindows XP had an extended run as the operating system of choice. Windows Vista was never embraced as a replacement. Given it's popularity, few remember how long it took to get over the reluctance to switch from Windows 98SE, the much respected operating sytem widely in use prior to Windows XP.
Windows XP ostensibly increased stability compared to its predecessors, but it did this primarily by dropping support for some of the more ancient software and hardware. Well, personally, I never found Windows 98 SE to be particularly unstable, but in any event, the support that has been dropped should certainly not be an issue for a newly built computer.
Initially there were great concerns with the "Product Activation" feature in Windows XP, but these concerns turned out to be overblown. Other than a nearly painless Product Activation step, legitimate owners of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system will not see a difference with any other Windows operating system in terms of doing repeated installs or hardware upgrades. Only legitimate owners that are doing extraordinary activities, such as re-installing the operating system very frequently, will need intervention from Microsoft customer support. Although specifics are unavailable, it seems that Windows XP product activation is "understanding" and "conservative" in its enforcement so as not to incovenience legitimate users. And that's sensible since a pirated version of Windows XP gives itself away with its outrageous number of product activation requests.
Windows XP had little impact on system performance. In fact, when comparing like systems (i.e., the only difference is the operating system) it's reasonable to conclude that Windows 98 Second Edition is actually slightly faster.
Windows Millenium Edition Operating System - Windows ME
So what happened? Windows Millenium Edition barely lasted a year. Windows Millenium Edition took the time to eliminate support for Real DOS mode, introduce more bugs in six months than Windows 98 ever had, add features either not worth having or that could be added separately to Windows 98 Second Edition - and then disappear so the next Windows version could be purchased. A better illustration of the "delayed acquisition" rule is hard to find.
Windows 2000 Professional
Windows 2000 Professional is the latest version of the Windows NT series. Windows 2000 Professional purports to give the stability and security of Windows XP, but without the irksome Product Activation feature. The downside is that the Windows 2000 Professional and Windows NT line is designed with business users in mind. The increase in stability and security comes at a cost in compatibility with software and hardware typically used on a home computer system. As with Windows ME, support for Real DOS mode is removed.
The incompatibilities are most likely to show up in game software, advanced video cards, scanners and digital cameras. But by no means are all items that fall into these categories incompatible with Windows 2000 Professional. On the other hand, I wouldn't want the hassle of having to worry over compatibility every time I wanted to use something new or different. And I'd be really annoyed if and when I found out something I wanted to use turned out to be incompatible.
Windows 98 Second Edition Operating System - Windows 98SE
Windows 98 Second Edition was a fine operating system. I used it for many years, and continued to use it on a legacy version of My Super PC long after Windows XP became available. But with new hardware coming out continually, and with Windows XP being a well-matured product, I believe Windows XP is the first choice for new PC builders.
I consider Windows 98 Second Edition as version 6.0 of the first real PC operating system. First there was Windows 95. Then there was Windows 95A, which patched the problems in Windows 95 with Service Pack 1, a download. Then there was Windows 95B, which included more patches with Service Pack 2 and a few enhancements, but it could only be acquired on a new computer. Then there was Windows 95 OSR2 (OEM Service Release 2) which updated Service Pack 2, but again could only be acquired on a new computer. Then there was Windows 98, which put in some pretty nice changes to the user interface. And then Windows 98 Second Edition, which patched the problems in Windows 98. There, only six tries to get it right. I see Windows 98 Second Edition as what should have been the first release of the Windows operating system, and all those other versions beforehand amounted to early Beta versions.
To make sure of which version of the Windows 98 operating system you have - the original Windows 98 or the Windows 98 Second Edition, do the following: Click Start, then Settings, then Control Panel. Next double-click the System icon. On the General tab, look under the System: information section.
For the original Windows 98, it will say something like Microsoft Windows 98 4.10.1998
For Windows 98 Second Edition, it will say something like Microsoft Windows 98 4.10.2222 - or Microsoft Windows 98 4.10.2222A.
Windows 95 Operating System
Worlds better than its predecessor, Windows 3.1, and almost as good as the operating system it copied from Apple - I'm sorry, but it's hard for me to sympathize with Microsoft's piracy concerns with Windows XP. Windows 95 OSR2 (OEM Service Release 2) was the best of the Windows 95 line, but it was only available with hardware purchase - meaning already installed on a hard drive. Strangely, some products are incompatible with Windows 95 versions and never will be compatible, so it's a no-go for building a computer.
What About Linux?Linux in some variation has become a mature operating system and is a viable alternative for those with the time and expertise to pursue it. There's no compelling reason to switch to Linux, however. Not money, not security, not customer support, and not compatibility. It's not likely that a full-featured, reasonably supported version of Linux will be substantially cheaper than an upgrade edition of Windows. Windows used in conjuction with a good firewall, antivirus utility, and common sense precautions is just as secure. And compatibility and availability of hardware and software will only be better on the Windows side. Linux may require special handling for it to work with some Windows applications, and may not work with some Windows applications at all. So while I would not try to dissuade someone who is keen on the Linux route, it is not an attractive option for most PC builders.
My complete recommendations for building a computer with quality components at unbeatable prices is on my home page at Build A Computer Like My Super PC - Cost To Build A Computer. Here again are the recommendations for Windows!