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Update to Windows 98 released

The company denies that the package of multimedia enhancements was ever positioned as a "service pack" of bug fixes.

    As expected, Microsoft today released the first update to the Windows 98 operating system as the company continues to deny that the package of multimedia enhancements were ever positioned as a "service pack" of bug fixes.

    The update is now available on the company's Windows Update site for Windows 98 users.

    The multimedia update includes:

  • Microsoft DirectX gaming technology.

  • Microsoft Media Player, with access to Windows Media Advanced Streaming Format, QuickTime, MIDI, RealAudio, and RealVideo content.

  • New Web fonts.

  • Microsoft Chat 2.5.

    Many of these features, such as the DirectX and Media Player applications, are already available for download through Microsoft's Web site.

    The reason for the update and how it is labeled became the subject of intense debate between the company and critics who wonder whether its primary objective has more to do with fixing bugs than multimedia.

    Microsoft has acknowledged in the past that the update was originally planned as a "service pack"--a technical euphemism for a software bug patch--but said it changed the name after concluding the package offered added multimedia functionality rather than mere bug fixes.

    Today, in announcing the update, a company spokesman asserted that "these multimedia updates are not a service pack repositioned as updates. They are new feature enhancements or updates to existing ones, not bug fixes."

    The issue is important because questions have been raised about whether Microsoft released Windows 98 despite knowledge of technical problems in a rush to meet shipping deadlines. A hot seller See special report:
Cracked Windows since its June 25 release, Microsoft's latest consumer operating system quickly came under fire for problematic upgrades on older machines and spotty recognition of peripheral devices such as printers.

    As previously reported, the software giant has resisted labeling the update a "service pack." Industry sources have said it is in fact a patch that was later called a "multimedia enhancement."

    "I can accept the fact that it [the newest multimedia applications] didn't make it in. But if this ends up coming out with new system files, I would be a little torqued, and anybody out there who bought it has the right to be upset," said Bill Peterson, a software analyst at International Data Corporation. "It brings me back to my question: 'Was this product rushed to market?'"

    Microsoft said the update will contain any bug patches that are part of new versions of included multimedia applications, but it emphasized that it was driven by the multimedia functions.

    "We said up front, internally, 'We'll release this as a service pack,'" Windows product manager Rob Bennett said. "Then we realized there were no bug fixes in this. We looked at the definition of what a service pack is, and this did not qualify.

    "Whether it was referred to as a service pack in meetings or in emails, when you look at what's being delivered, it's not a service pack," he added, stressing that today's update does not fit that definition because it contains additional functionality. Service packs address established problems.