95 Days with Windows 95: Final Report
By Gregg Keizer

     After Three Months -- and Serious Tester Attrition -- We Close the
   Books on our FamilyTested Report

     After spending three months evaluating Microsoft's newest incarnation
     of Windows, our remaining family testers sing its praises and shout its
     strengths.  "It is the fastest, most powerful, and overall best
     operating system that I know," said Stacy Zeller, a native of
     Martinsville, New Jersey.

     Trouble is, only about half the families who started our Windows 95
     review stuck with it to the end.  By the time we'd closed out 95 days
     with Windows 95, many families had given up, upset over its hardware
     requirements, frustrated by its slow operation on their machines, or
     just plain fed up with compatibility problems.  "Windows 95 did not work
     with any existing software.  All our games had to be reloaded and
     adjusted, often with the help of the manufacturer," said Cheryl Gorman
     of Oceanport, New Jersey, who dropped out of the test after two months.
     "It has been a time-consuming disaster."

     To Microsoft, those are fightin' words.  But to FamilyPC readers,
     they're an honest appraisal of the most-hyped piece of software in
     history.  In this third and final report, we continue to track families'
     satisfaction with Windows 95 -- particularly their opinions on its
     performance, compatibility with DOS software, and user interface.

     The fierce rate of attrition during our tests by users with
     less-powerful machines is an important point to remember.  It means that
     the operating system's final scores came from only those who liked
     Windows 95 well enough to continue with the testing.  That skewed the
     numbers and presents a portrait that needs explaining.

     Our Story So Far

     Immediately after its release in August 1995, we sent the Windows 95
     upgrade to 28 families who had been using Windows 3.1.  We asked them to
     install the new operating system, use it, and give us an earful in

     The reaction after a week was generally upbeat (see the January issue).
     But a disturbing number of families -- one out of four -- had problems
     during installation.  It was a sign of things to come.

     After a month, satisfaction dropped, brought on by bad feelings about
     slow performance and incompatibility.  At this point, eight families
     dropped out of the test.

     These trends continued during the second month.  "We'll discontinue
     [using Windows 95]," said Patrick Caputo, one of the parents who bailed
     out after two months.  "My son asked me to uninstall it so he could use
     the computer again.  He did not like it either, and he can figure out
     more things than I can."

     But by the end of three months, most scores had climbed, some
     dramatically.  With the defection of unhappy testers, satisfaction with
     Windows 95's performance rose at the end of the second and third

     Because so many families dropped out of the evaluation -- by the end,
     only 13 families remained of the original 28 -- the final testing group
     included a much higher percentage of families who own Pentium-based PCs
     (59%) than did the starting group (39%).  Since Windows 95 runs faster
     on a faster PC, it's logical that Pentium owners would give it higher
     grades. "People should be warned about retrofitting old machines to run
     Windows 95," said Tony Gurrieri.  "They are setting themselves up for

     Most Windows 95 ratings first bottomed out (by the end of two months)
     and then rebounded (by the end of three months) -- another indication
     that as the group shrank to die-hard fans with higher-powered systems,
     opinions got rosier.  Ease of use and productivity scores both climbed
     substantially at the conclusion of the survey.

     Even with the dissatisfied customers gone, however, Windows 95's
     ratings could not rise high enough to earn it a FamilyPC Recommended
     seal.  Testers like Debbie Wang, from Holmdel, New Jersey, and the
     mother of a nine-year-old, may have concluded that "Windows 95 saves
     time," but she still didn't have enough faith to call it an unqualified

     What Works and What Doesn't

     We stretched out the Windows 95 family testing so we could report on
     how families' opinions changed.  As it turned out, characteristics the
     testers thought they'd love often turned out to be things they loved to
     hate.  To prove the point, we asked our testers to judge some of the
     most important features of Windows 95 each month.  Did they get used to
     working in Windows 95, or was it just a burden?

     User Interface.  Windows 95 struts its new look more than anything else.
     And our testers liked that look.  With a final score of 89 out of 100,
     the user interface won over almost everyone.  Throughout the three
     months, in fact, the user interface led all aspects of Windows 95 in
     the ratings.  Testers used terms like "intuitive," "very good," and "the
     best one I know" to describe the interface.

     File Management.  How easy is it to access programs and files within
     Windows 95?  This score dropped two months in a row, sliding even closer
     to just Manageable.  Only near the end did it climb back toward Easy,
     according to our testers.  Many of them continued to find it tough to
     adapt to Windows 95's way of doing things.  Some testers reached a
     comfort zone after weeks with the operating system.  "It took a while to
     master this, but I'm now satisfied that I know where to find almost
     everything I need," said Melissa Gurrieri.

     Software Compatibility.  The rating for running MS-DOS applications may
     have bounced back slightly from its one-month low, but the negative
     comments continued to mount.  Saul Armus called it a "hit and miss"
     affair, while Robert Conte said, "Some games refuse to run, and I'm
     having difficulty finding the correct configuration to make them run."
     According to families, an inability to run DOS software is one of
     Windows 95's greatest weaknesses; several families, in fact, dropped
     Windows 95 precisely because of it.  Testers who reported no
     compatibility problems typically admitted that they didn't have a
     substantial library of DOS titles.

     Other Areas.  The news from the Windows 95 front isn't all bleak.  Many
     of its characteristics got consistent applause from the testers.
     Printing, for instance, remained a bright spot, as did Windows 95's
     multimedia capabilities.  Other traits that received their highest marks
     at the end of the survey included ease of installing new hardware and
     telecommunication skills.  "Windows 95 makes hardware installation even
     easier than it was before," said Stacy Zeller.

     "We had good multimedia before," said Bruce Heyman, who lives in Green
     Brook, New Jersey, and is the father of seven-year-old Nate.  "New
     [multimedia] software made for Windows 95 is very good."

     And the testers gave a qualified thumbs-up to Windows 95's software
     installation procedure.  "Software made for Windows 95 is easy to
     install," said Bernard Robinson from Martinsville, New Jersey.  "And
     other software installs more reliably than on Windows 3.1 or MS-DOS."

     Switch or Stay?

     Windows 95 is everywhere.  When it was launched, you couldn't watch TV,
     it seemed, without hearing the Rolling Stones sing "Start Me Up," the
     song Microsoft bought for its campaign.  But should it be on your home

     By the numbers, probably not.  At no time during the three-month
     evaluation did our testers -- even the small group at the end -- give
     Windows 95 high-enough marks to rate it a FamilyPC Recommended product.

     Other numbers tell more tales of Windows 95.  Over a third of the
     testers who remained at the end said they had upgraded their hardware
     during the three months.  "I bought a new computer," said Tony Gurrieri,
     "because with my 66-MHz 486 and 540MB hard drive I couldn't load any
     new upgrades for Windows 95 software."

     The bottom line, of course, was whether our families would recommend
     Windows 95 to their friends -- and to FamilyPC's readers.  The "yea"
     vote among the remaining testers was unanimous.  The other half of our
     test group, however, voted not with words but with their feet, by
     walking away from our long-term test.  Would they recommend Windows 95?

     Pragmatists among the family testers saw the future, though, and saw
     that it was a Windows 95 world whether they liked it or not.  "I will
     continue using Windows 95 because I've upgraded my most frequently used
     software -- Microsoft Works and Microsoft Publisher -- to Win95
     versions," said Melissa Gurrieri.  "I believe that very soon all
     software will be developed for Windows 95."

     So what's the bottom line?

     Windows 95 is full of good features, say families, and is a much better
     operating system overall than Windows 3.1.  And since the world of
     Windows is inevitably headed toward Windows 95, you will in time want
     to upgrade -- probably when more programs are designed specifically to
     run on it.  However, if your current computer has less than 16MB of RAM
     or a slow (less than 66 MHz) 486 processor, you'll need to upgrade your
     hardware first; otherwise, you won't be happy with the change.

     Gregg Keizer is a FamilyPC contributing editor.


               Should You Upgrade?

               The votes are in.  Windows 95 may not have charmed all our
               family testers, but their experience points out some facts
               that will help you decide whether it belongs in your house.

               You'll be happy with Windows 95 if...

             + The family PC is a Pentium with 16MB of RAM and plenty of
               empty hard disk space.  Everyone else should be prepared to
               spend money on more memory at the very least.
             + You're willing to invest in Windows 95-specific software.
               Compatibility problems with older software, particularly DOS
               programs, are still an issue.
             + You have the patience -- and the time -- necessary to relearn
               some basic computing habits.


This article originally appeared in the April 1996 issue of FamilyPC.

Copyright © 1996 FamilyPC

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