Windows 95 is a marvelous product. Maybe it's mostly marvelous because Windows 3.1 was so awful. We have just become used to the fact that Win 3.1 crashes. No biggie. Reboot and reload. The casual user always thought it had to be that way. Win 95, running Win 95 applications, is flat out more stable. It unleashes the architecture that has lain dormant in PCs since Compaq introduced the first 386 almost a decade ago, namely 32-bit computing.

For all the good that Win 95 brings, however, it brings a lot of confusion to the table, because Win 95 is one complicated piece of work.


The following features of Win 95 are going to be well-received:

* Win 95 applications that go awry will not lock up the computer, but legacy DOS and Windows applications running under Win 95 can still bring the system down.

* You will be able to run more applications without getting "out of memory" errors. You will be able to multitask Win 95 applications preemptively so that you can truly download a long file while you're working on something else without fear you will lose data in the transmission.

* You will be able to use long file names, but only if you are ready to give up the past (more on that later). Mac and UNIX users have enjoyed long file names for years.

* Win 95 has finally given meaning to the right mouse button. You can right click on almost anything and get a menu of options. For example, if you left click and drag a file from one folder to another, Win 95 decides what it is supposed to do with that function. If it's a data file, it copies it. If it's an executable file, it creates a pointer, or "shortcut" to it. However, if you right click and drag the item, a menu pops up that gives you a choice. By the way, this is one advantage over the Mac, which uses a one-button mouse.

* The built-in plug-and-play is a godsend long overdue. But, plug-and-play still requires up-to-date system BIOSs (the chip on the motherboard) and, to do it right, plug-and-play peripherals, which are just coming on the market.

Win 95 does a much better job of dealing with hardware. At install time, it records the inner workings of your PC. In fact, you can no longer pull the hard disk out of one PC and put it into another. The Win 95 on the hard disk expects to work with a specific PC configuration, so don't play switchies.

Win 95 tries to identify new cards plugged into the PC, but it doesn't do a perfect job of it. It's better if you know the name of your device and instruct Win 95 to install it. Win 95 will use older 16-bit drivers and new 32-bit protected mode drivers, whichever you happen to have.

Let's not mince words here ... Win 95 has copied everything possible from the Macintosh. Now, there is a real desktop. When you turn on the PC the next day, you find your desktop with the same clutter you left on it yesterday. You can create folders and put folders within folders. Just like the Mac, you have a shut down menu, and Win 95 tells you when it's safe to turn the computer off.

And, ah, the 90s -- the Macintosh trash can has become the Win 95 recycle bin. This is so PC -- that is "politically correct." Mac users have known for years how easy it is to retrieve a deleted file. DOS and Windows 3.x users have suffered with all kinds of "undelete" abominations. This is clearly a boon for novices.

The networking options are more complete, and the terminology has been simplified somewhat. A "Network Neighborhood" icon is always on the desktop, and it is reasonably simple to hook up