At a Spring Comdex demo of Windows 98 on Monday in Chicago, Bill Gates got to see what's it actually like to use NT's little brother. The OS crashed while the world's richest man was demonstrating it to a packed house, sending its dire death message onto huge monitors for all to see. As Microsoft product manager Chris Capossela quickly moved to remove the offensive message from the screens, Gates quipped "This must be why we're not shipping Windows 98 yet."

Welcome to reality, Bill.

Until the crash, the demo was creating applause and murmuring from the crowd, which was also shown a demo of Windows NT 5.0. NT didn't crash, however, despite its much earlier beta state. Gates' message--for 98 as well as NT 5.0--was that the integration of the Web into Windows makes the OSes easier to use.

"You just learn one thing," Gates said, "and that's the browser...All the work that is being done in the future simply takes advantage of the great HTML offerings. It is all about ease of use and allowing you to think of offline use of the computer and online use of the computer as the same thing."

Despite his earlier proclamations that Windows 98 was simply "a point release," massive delays in Windows NT 5.0 have prompted Microsoft--and Gates--to change their tune about Windows 98 recently.

"Windows 98 will take over from Windows 95 very rapidly," he said. Gates touted new 98 features such as USB support, multi-monitor support, and less cryptic error messages that real people can understand. Windows 98 also launches programs faster than Windows 95. One crowd pleaser included the launch of Adobe PhotoShop simultaneous on both Windows 95 and Windows 98. On 98, the program came to life instantly, while on 95 the hard drive churned away.

Also on Monday, Microsoft announced that it will optionally hide the ill-received Active Channel Bar when it ships Windows 98 to OEMs in May. The Channel Bar is a feature designed to promote the Web sites of Microsoft partners, such as Disney and Warner Bros. Microsoft foes have argued that giving such heavyweights a place on the Windows desktop is unfair. As Microsoft is under a lot of scrutiny from the government these days, it decided to axe the bar. Microsoft will now allow hardware vendors to optionally not display the bar when they install Windows 98 on new computers