The Bleeding edge – John Saxon

John Saxon migrates to Windows 98

I have to admit it – there had been one (or several) downloads and installs too many. My Windows 95 OSR2 system was a mess – the hardware was fine, but the software was a disaster area. I had tried several W95 re-installations, but the seemingly insolvable problems (and there were a few) lay deep in bowels of the registry.

The worst problem was an error message during W95 start up - "Whilst initialising device IOS: Windows protection error – you need to restart your computer" – not funny, especially as it hadn’t completed a start up! The next start up attempt would then bring up W95 in safe mode (a mode supposedly meant for trouble shooting) but which only loads a minimal set of drivers. None of the help or W95 books that I tried covered this error message. Eventually I got various hints (from the MS knowledge base) that the message concerned 32 bit device driver conflicts. The problem was that most device drivers are not loaded in safe mode so it wasn’t possible to establish which drivers were conflicting – a real W95 catch 22! Finally almost by trial and error using device manager and removing the driver for my fabulous Ensoniq (pre- W95, pre-PlugnPray) soundcard, I found that W95 would run – so obviously there was a sound card driver conflict, but with what? I love that card, so removing the driver was not an option. Despite slavishly following the Ensoniq "removing previous driver versions" instructions from their web site, and installing the latest drivers, re-installs of W95, plus trying every registry editing trick I could think of, the boot-up error returned.

Another problem was that Eudora-Pro MAPI could not be enabled – somewhere along the way I had given MS Outlook a try and I was sure that was the culprit, but how to fix it? There were also sundry other funnies – long W95 load times, the occasional strange shutdown, etc.

The time had come to teach the system who is boss, to bite the bullet. No – not to Format C:! But to start with a fresh W95 install. Not a namby pamby quickie "over the top of the previous version", but a genuine start from scratch. I knew that all my applications and tweaks would have to be re-installed, but that was to be the price of a new "clean" system. Luckily my previous W95 installation was on the second (D:) hard drive – it is the biggest and fastest of my two drives, but also the noisiest. Both drives (C: 850Mb and D: 1.6Gb) were already FAT32’d with no partitions, so it would be comparatively simple to go to a more standard configuration of W95 on the C: drive. An added benefit would be to retain the old W95 installation on the D: drive in case of real problems with the installation on C:.

And so the bullet was bit and 30-40 minutes later I was doing the final re-boot from the fresh installation. A couple of hours later and the video and soundcards had been successfully installed with the latest drivers. Dial up networking and the Internet were back in business (thank goodness), and a core set of most used applications had been forced to realise that W95 no longer lived where they had been previously told. A few applications did not have to be re-installed (I presume that they do not use the registry, or write dll files all over the old W95 and W95/system directories). Most applications had to be set-up again, quite a fast process. But many (especially MS applications) had to be re-installed from scratch. All that was left to do was a month or so of re-installing and tweaking of the less used applications to get back to where the system had been. Hopefully without the previous problems, and a much cleaner and leaner system.

In fact the system was now running like clockwork (almost like the Microsoft advertisements), and it was obviously time to think up new ways to live on the edge again. So just when life was starting to get easy, a Microsoft representative kindly presented the group with a MS Windows 98 "Candidate release 0" CDROM. What better way to guarantee some more fun?

A fellow member said (via ICQ) that he was off to the Centre to try to burn a copy of the CDROM (we presumed that as MS had presented the group with the CDROM – they indirectly gave permission for it to be copied) . So I innocently asked my friend if he was up to a bit of volume production? "No problem" he replied and the next day presented me with a cloned copy, complete with an elegantly printed circular label – once again living up to our motto. It turned out that he had given up trying to use the ROM writer at the Centre after it halted in the middle of the first copy and wasted a disk (good thing they are much cheaper these days). Also the copying software was deemed "too complicated", so he made several clones on his own Sony machine. Either way, my copy is perfect and I had no problems reading it on my Samsung X20 drive.

There seem to be a couple of anomalies in the on ROM documentation – presumably these will be sorted out in "shrink wrap" version.

    1. The root directory readme.txt file referred to a number of other beaut looking text files such as "display.txt, Faq.txt, hardware.txt" to name a few, and these would apparently be found in a sub-directory called readme. This directory was nowhere to be found (or the various text files), or perhaps they are in one of the cab files – I’ll keep looking.
    2. Several of the release notes files that I did mentioned in numerous places that the software has an expiry date of 1st April 2001, with "warning date of Nov 15 1998". No problem there I thought, Windows 2000/NT6.0 (or whatever) will be out by that appropriate date, and went ahead with the installation. But there were several dire warnings about what would happen if you set your system date too far ahead when checking for Y2K problems. Apparently in some cases the system is recoverable, in others it is not. I was a little disappointed to hear from one of my legally minded friends that the Software agreement states that the software expiration date is actually 24th Aug 1998 – who reads software agreements? If you don’t accept you can’t install. I checked with MS regarding the dates conflict, and leave it as an exercise to the reader to establish which is the correct one!

So first to backup critical data! Did that – but did not bother to try to make any fancy mirrors of the old system. I think that most reasonably knowledgeable people know that full backups and restores are not feasible for average W95 users - because the Boy God Bill is not keen for them to do it. The official reason is that in cases of real problems, a full re-install of the system (from the original media) and all applications is the only "safe" starting point. I guess I have to admit that it did my system a power of good (see above). But unofficially it’s my guess that it would become too easy to copy W95 from one system to another, so making it difficult is one form of copy protection. But you can use software such as "ghost" reviewed by Peter Elliott last month to mirror your system disk.

So then to work. I used W95 Explorer to double click the CDROM setup.exe file, only to be greeted by the error message "E:\setup.exe is not a valid W32 application" – O.K. in response and no further action! <sigh>.So after a bit of poking around – ran the setup.exe from the W98 sub-directory on the ROM and away it went. After a few system checks the setup program gave me the option to save existing MS-DOS and W95 files in compressed form for recovery back to W95 if required, "about 50 Mb of disk space needed". If there had been a big YES PLEASE! Button I would have used it – instead yes and O.K. were selected. There appeared to be no option to make a fresh install in another directory, but perhaps there is if you elect not to save the old system. Then the request to "enter the multi-digit product code" HUH? This is an evaluation disk. Luckily I had been warned about this, any set of digits will do. Presumably this is because it is a non-commercial release. But I made a mistake in not taking a note of what numbers I entered, that could come back to bite me. Then to creating the Emergency start-up floppy disk – Again Yes please! This is very necessary because a W95 one will not work with W98. The good news is that the W98 disk includes a generic CDROM driver so that avoids extra fiddling with the floppy, adding all the files for your particular CDROM. It works O.K with mine, but no guarantees for some of the more exotic types.

Then to spending some time with the Microsoft advertisements while what seemed like a million files were copied. There is even a reasonably accurate (with my system) "estimated setup time remaining" indication, and the usual file copy % thermometer. All rather painless actually. After a rather lengthy system restart, there followed "setting up hardware and PnP devices" and on to "non PnP devices"! Actually apart from the soundcard my system is reasonable standard. Then some more "setting up hardware" messages (thought it was in a loop – even the estimated time remaining started increasing for a while). On to updating system settings – control panel and stuff. When the estimated time remaining got to less than 1 minute there was a final re-start and voila! A Windows 98 desktop looking suspiciously like my old W95 one thank goodness, plus a few extra icons. I’m happy to say that it doesn’t default to the new Web style interface – let’s you get into that gradually. After some setting up of personalised data from various applications (like translating Netscape bookmarks to IE 4.x), it was into the multimedia W98 tour. This is O.K but for some reason the sound is broken up on my system. Other video clips on the CDROM were O.K.

About 35 minutes from start to finish on my system and almost totally painless! After refusing the offer to run the Internet wizard, I was able to start using the system which can appear to be deceptively similar to W95 (if you use the "traditional desktop" option), but there’s a lot of new and interesting stuff just below the surface. Importantly everything appears to work as usual including my TIP connection and scripting! I even registered with Microsoft so that I could use the automatic system update features – the registration worked perfectly with a single mouse click (after filling out the required info forms). Later I ran the Windows Update feature which compares your system files to those at the MS web site, then gives you the option to download and automatically install replacements for anything outdated. Amusingly the only update I needed was to the update wizard! But the update for that installed painlessly with two mouse clicks.

I will not try to give my impressions of W98 in this article – it’s gone on for long enough already, and all the magazines have articles about it’s features anyhow. Except to say that it appears to perform at least as well as W95 (at least with the traditional desktop) and appears to be very stable so far. Actually I can’t resist mentioning that one of the new features is that W98 includes an optional automatic process to make apparent speed increases by moving your most used (de-fragmented) applications to the fastest part of your hard drive to improve load speed. I have to admit that my wife and I are Freecell solitare addicts. After a few days use I had to slow down my mouse double click speed to avoid having two copies load before I could release the mouse key. Now that’s fast!

As usual I am sure that the experts will be able to correct some of my miss-statements and miss-understandings – I’m sure the editor would love to hear from you!

Per previous articles I expect you thought that all of this was going to fall apart on me – so did I! Happy PC’ing.


Postscript: At time of writing (Late April) – I’m told that "W98 Candidate release 2" has already hit the streets!

Back to the hobby page