Tests show that new Windows is slower

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The Independent Online

Technology Correspondent

Unpublished independent laboratory tests show Microsoft's much-hyped Windows 95 operating system runs between 10 and 20 per cent slower than the product it replaces, Windows 3.1.

Tests to be published in the October issue of PC Magazine show that with existing programs the speed of calculation falls significantly. Even new machines fitted with the powerful Pentium chip run 10 per cent slower under Windows 95. The product was launched last Thursday amid a blaze of advertising, estimated to have cost about $400m (pounds 259.7m) world-wide.

Specialist magazines and many new users are unimpressed. "The group most poorly served by Windows 95 is the largest - the novice user," PC Magazine's usability editor, Joanna Bawa, said. "A beginner still can't switch on a PC and understand what's going on."

Sean Geer, editor of Windows User, said: "It's treacly slow. For many people who already have their machine working with Windows 3.1, the upgrade will be more hassle than it's worth. Our advice is 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. "

Anne Mitchard, senior Windows 95 product manager for Microsoft UK, said: "Our testing and that of other independent groups indicates that applications will run faster under Windows 95 than Windows 3.1, in the majority of cases."

The company has also been overwhelmed with calls from new users who have had problems installing or using the new software with their existing programs. In the UK, 3,000 people called the company's technical support line between 9am and 5pm on Tuesday and about the same number called on Wednesday. Callers waited an average of two minutes to speak to support staff and Microsoft said calls were taking an average of 15 minutes to handle. In the US, the corporation's support lines, able to handle 20,000 calls at once, have been overwhelmed since midday on Thursday.

However, despite Microsoft having aimed the product strongly at the home market, domestic users who want support outside office hours will have to pay between pounds 25 and pounds 50 by credit card for telephone help. During office hours, the support is free. The customer only pays for the standard telephone call.

The demand for 24-hour support is strong: Tony Ettlinger, Microsoft's head of UK product support services, said that over the weekend the company switchboard received hundreds of calls. However, it did not start offering support until Monday, when there were 500 calls. "I think Microsoft have totally underestimated the amount of technical support that people would need," Manek Dubash, network editor of PC Magazine, said. "It's been quite cynical - they've spent a huge amount of money on hype and marketing but very little on technical support."

However, retailers reported strong sales of the software. A market research company, PC Data, estimated 800,000 copies were sold in the first four days.

Many users have turned to the Internet's discussion groups for communal help. "Even if you don't know the solution to this problem, please respond so I can get an idea of how many of us are in the same leaky boat," wrote one after explaining his problem. Newsgroups dealing with support issues for Windows 95 are among the most active on the Internet.