When to upgrade Windows

June 1, 1999
Windows98 is now the operating system of choice for most new computers. Win98 is an improvement over the older Win95 version, but it is not the quantum leap in style and performance that was seen when Windows 3.1 was replaced with Win95. Many of the changes in Win98 are internal and have to do with integrating the Internet with the operating system.

Larry Emmott, DDS

Windows98 is now the operating system of choice for most new computers. Win98 is an improvement over the older Win95 version, but it is not the quantum leap in style and performance that was seen when Windows 3.1 was replaced with Win95. Many of the changes in Win98 are internal and have to do with integrating the Internet with the operating system.

Microsoft also has announced the release of Windows 2000 sometime this year. Win2000 is the new name for what was called Windows NT 5.0. The current version of NT is 4.0. NT is an improved operating system for larger networks, which provides a more stable operating system, faster file transfer, and better security. Microsoft`s intent has been to move consumers and home-computer users to the Windows98 system and business users to Windows 2000.

Win2000 has some clear advantages over Win95, but it also has some disadvantages. Disadvan-tages include the need for professional system management, more expensive hardware requirements, and increased costs. More significantly, many existing software applications were written for Win95 and will not run well or at all on Win2000. The switch from Win95 to Win2000 can be difficult, and most dentists should not attempt it themselves.

What does this mean for dental computer users? If you already have Windows95, do not be in a hurry to switch to any new system. Whatever you are running now will be fine for the next year or two. There is a lot of uncertainty right now, and the best course will become clearer over the next 18 months.

Dental offices that still run a DOS operating system will need to upgrade to a form of Windows before the year 2000. Check the calendar; it`s 1999! Windows has been available for more than eight years. Eight years in computer time is roughly equivalent to the entire age of dinosaurs in geologic time. Windows does work, there are no significant bugs to worry about, it is dramatically better than DOS (dramatically means much better), and all new software is being written for Windows.

If you are setting up a new system with less than 10 computers, Win98 with a simple peer-to-peer network is all you need. If you plan to have 10 or more computers on the network, consider NT immediately for the server. Do not install a complete NT system with NT on the workstations; use it on the server only! This setup will make it easier for you to transition into Win2000 when it is released, and more software applications become Win2000 compatible.

For existing systems, if you have, or expect to have, more than 10 computers on your network, you should be planning on switching to Win2000 sometime during the next few years.

When you do start to use Win2000, the server hardware requirements will change considerably. You should plan on having a single dedicated server, not a peer-to-peer network. You also should plan on a certified network administrator for setup, upkeep, and maintenance.

The minimum configuration you should consider for Win2000 is a P100 processor with 32MB of RAM and a 1GB hard drive with an added CD-ROM. Actually, according to Microsoft, the minimum required system is even smaller. But most people are favoring much more powerful machines for NT.

The typical specs currently for an NT server are PenII 350, 64MB RAM, and a 6GB SCSI hard drive. All of this costs money. In fact, the NT software, at about $700, also is pricey. Expect to pay close to $5,000 to switch up to NT from Win95.

Whenever it is released, the bottom line is don`t be in a rush to upgrade to Win98 or NT 5.0. If the trends of the past 20 years continue, you will be able to convert later for a lot less money. And, besides, NT doesn`t come with any games.

The future is coming, and it will be amazing!

Dr. Larry Emmott is a practicing general dentist in Phoenix, Ariz. He also is an entertaining, award-winning professional speaker. He has addressed hundreds of professional groups and is a featured speaker at the Las Vegas Institute. He is a member of the American Academy of Dental Practice Administration and will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming 1999 ADA Technology Day. He has written many articles for national magazines on dentistry, computer use, and management. He produces a monthly newsletter on management and computer use in the dental office, and he has developed and maintains a computer users Internet Web site, www.drlarryemmott.com; e-mail: [email protected].