Microsoft gives AnswerStation to Windows 95

Got a problem with your Windows 95 desktop? Microsoft will soon have a faster way to help you sort it out.

Got a problem with your Windows 95 desktop? Microsoft will soon have a faster way to help you tidy it up.

When the company rolls out its first revision of Windows 95 later this year, it will include a feature called AnswerStation, an agent that allows Microsoft technical support personnel to dial in to customers' Windows 95 PCs to remotely diagnose problems.

The upgrade will also allow for easier installation of network cards and feature ISDN support. In addition, it will enable image scanning, include a built-in Web browser and boast support for a wider range of hardware, including larger shared disk drives.

AnswerStation is the most intriguing new feature, though observers say it could raise concerns among customers. Some customers complained last year around the time Windows 95 first shipped that Microsoft was peeking at their system setups -- and invading their privacy -- when they registered with the Microsoft Network online service. Microsoft denied any wrongdoing.

"You'd think after that debacle last when people thought Microsoft was accessing their data when they logged into the Microsoft Network for help that they would have learned their lesson," says one user, who requested anonymity.

The Windows 95 revision is in limited technical beta testing and should be on retailers' shelves by year-end.

But Microsoft first will ship the code -- dubbed the OEM Service Release 2 (OSR2) -- this quarter to its OEM partners so they can test the new features on their own hardware, says Phil Holden, a product manager in Microsoft's business systems division.

The new features will not be available as an add-on pack for existing customers, but Microsoft will provide some of them via the Internet.

Microsoft has said it will ship up to five OSRs before it releases the next major version of Windows, code-named Memphis, in late 1997 or early 1998.

Here are other highlights of OSR2:

* Support for File Allocation Table-32 (FAT32), a file system enhancement that will give Windows 95 users access to large shared disk drives and dual CD-ROMs with upwards of 4Gb of storage.

* Interrupt Requester sharing, which allows multiple PC cards to access a single interrupt at the same time. This is useful for Windows 95 users installing high-speed network adapter cards, video cards, modems and other PC add-ons.

* Support for faster 3.3v PC cards, including network adapters and modems. Both end users and network managers can now power-off these cards when they are not in use.

* A built-in copy of Internet Explorer 3.0, Microsoft's Web browser.

* It will retain the Universal In-Box for electronic messaging, but the name is being changed to the Windows Messaging System.

* OSR2 also includes all the elements of the Windows 95 service pack, which has been available to users via the Internet since December. Among these features is a scanning technology licensed from Wang Laboratories called Windows Imaging, and a redirector that allows access to Novell's Novell Directory Services tree. Other features include a 32-bit Data Link Control protocol stack that enables access to IBM mainframes and improved support for ISDN drivers, which is increasingly important for remote access.

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