General Availability: June 25, 1998
Although visually similar to Windows 95, Windows 98 brought a number of end-user and technical improvements, many of which were focused on consumers as opposed to business and enterprise users, the usual target of Microsoft’s efforts. Support for USB devices, DVD discs, new desktop wallpaper formats, and advanced AGP-based video cards all catered to consumers’ increasing demands for multi-media entertainment on their PCs, and Active Desktop — a new feature that let users run live HTML content as their Windows background — let users customize the look of their PC like never before (unfortunately, Active Desktop had a number of performance issues and proved to be a potential security vulnerability, so it was eventually removed from later versions of Windows).
A number of improvements and additions were also introduced in Windows 98 to make the process of configuring and managing a PC easier for novice users, including an entirely new and interactive Help utility, automated wizards for tasks like Disk Defragment and drive consistency checks, and file backup. Windows 98 was also more stable and efficient overall, with improved memory management and significantly faster boot and shut down times.
The Windows 98 Start Menu grew a bit compared to its predecessor, by offering the ability to quickly log out of the active user account. The menu also featured Windows Update in its own section at the top, and a new “Favorites” folder for user-defined shortcuts to files and programs. Windows 98 also saw the introduction of the Quick Launch section of the taskbar, which let users pin frequently access programs for quick access. Quick Launch also contained a handy “show desktop” button, which would minimize all windows at once so that the user could quickly check their desktop for a particular file or setting.