Having taken the decision to upgrade to Windows 98 the first thing to do, before you even think about taking the CD-ROM out of its cover, is back up all of your data files on a removable disc or tape. That means making a copy of everything you've created on your computer, from word-processor documents and accounts to your Internet address book and E-mail, in fact anything that cannot be easily replaced, just in case the installation goes belly-up.

From what we know of Windows 98 so far the chances of it being responsible for an irrecoverable disaster during the installation are quite small, but there's no point tempting fate. The process can easily take a couple of hours, which is plenty of time for all sorts of unexpected things to happen. Choose the time you carry out the update carefully, set aside an afternoon, evening or weekend don't attempt it on a busy work day, that's just asking for troubleā€¦

Although Windows 98 thoroughly checks your machine before, during and after the installation, now is a good time to put right any small glitches and get rid of any dead wood. Open Windows 95 Explorer and run through all of the programs that you have. Delete any you no longer need using the Add/Remove facility in Control Panel or the program's own uninstaller. Make sure that you have at least 200 megabytes of free space on the hard disc before you begin.

Close down all running programs in Windows 95, pop in the Windows 98 CD-ROM and it should start automatically, if not click on Run in the Start menu and select Set-up, or double click on the CD-ROM icon on My Computer and choose Setup from there. The opening screen tells you what is going to do, and roughly how long it will take. This depends on the speed of your PC, RAM memory, the size of the hard drive and how full up it is. During the initial stages you may or may not be asked to run Scandisk, or rather it will run it for you. The installer will also ask you if you want to backup all of your Windows 95 files, so you can return to your original configuration. You would be unwise not to!  

Hopefully the installation will go smoothly, you don't need to stand over it but keep an eye on it from time to time as you will have to make some decisions. It might suggest switching off or updating any anti-virus software you're using (some programs may object to Windows 98) and whether or not to make an emergency recovery disc (do it!). You'll need a blank formatted floppy disc for that, so have one handy. It will ask which type of installation you want (typical, portable, custom or compact), and you'll have to enter a few details concerning you, your PC and internet connectivity.

Eventually, after the PC has re-booted for the last time you will be asked for a password, if you're the only one using it just ignore it, after that you'll see the Welcome screen and you're ready to go. At this point you will be invited to register the program via the Internet, take a guided tour or go straight to the Maintenance Wizard.

It's worth spending a few minutes with the tutorial but if you decide to press on then you should see your old familiar desktop, but with a few extra icons and elements. One obvious difference will be the way the Start menu is organised. There will be two new entries, Favourites is a collection of frequently accessed folders and Internet Web sites. If you click on a document Windows 98 launches your word processor, selecting an image file takes you straight to a graphics application, and so on. The integration of web browsing facilities in Windows 98 is immediately obvious. If you point your mouse at an Internet related entry the address appears and if you click on it, Win 98 dials it up for you, automatically logging on to your ISP (internet service provider) and connecting to the relevant site. The other newcomer on the Start menu is Log. It off allows several people to share the PC and access their own customised desktop, without having to close Windows every time.  

Many Windows 98 features look and work differently, though if you've installed Internet Explorer 4.0 some of it will already be familiar. My Computer, Control Panel and Explorer are typical examples; they are contained inside browser-style windows and resemble web pages in appearance. It is designed to make it easier to move around and organise files; fortunately the changes are quite subtle and you quickly get used to them. Settings on the Start menu contains a utility called Folder options, that switches between web-type single click file/folder open and conventional Win 95 double-click actions.

Of more immediate interest are the customising options contained in a new Control Panel item called Themes (previously seen on the Windows 95 Plus pack). It comes as standard with Windows 98 and it contains a big collection of wacky Windows wallpapers, backgrounds, pointers, screen savers, sounds and icons. Don't bother unless you've got 32MB of RAM and leave it alone if you want to get any work done, but if you've got an hour or three to spare there's some tremendous fun to be had. On a more serious note, if you have any disabilities Windows 98 has improved Accessibility Options (also in Control Panel), including a simple screen magnifier to assist those with impaired vision.

The Maintenance Wizard is a collection of tools, some of them are old friends, like the Disk Defragmenter, others, such as Disk Cleanup are new to Windows 98. This seeks out and identifies unused or unwanted files and offers to delete them. Defragging speeds up disc access but it can take a long time on a large disk drive, Windows 98 can do it automatically, at a time of your choosing, though you have to leave the machine switched on if you do it overnight.

If you've upgraded from Windows 3.1 or the early version of Windows 95 there's the option to convert to the FAT-32 disc drive filing system. This is definitely worth doing, in addition to recovering wasted hard disc space programs will load faster, however, be warned that once the change has been made it can't be undone and you won't be able to revert to your previous installation.

We've barely scratched the surface of Windows 98. Some features, like the Internet tools, troubleshooting utilities, multi-display and support for new generation hardware each deserve an episode of Boot Camp on their own. However, the key point is that upgrading to Windows 98 is relatively safe and painless and on the evidence so far, a worthwhile exercise. 




Over time the files on a PC's hard disc drive become disorganised, 'defragging' the drive restores order and speeds up reading and writing data


If Windows fail to boot up the Emergency Recovery Disc contains the necessary start-up files to get it running, plus troubleshooting and diagnostic utilities


A Windows utility that checks the integrity of data stored on a hard disc drive, identifies problems, and where possible, puts them right



If you like the idea of personalising your PC desktop then you don't have wait for Windows 98 or buy any extra software. There are literally thousands of free desktop 'themes' on the Internet. A theme contains wallpaper, sounds, screensavers and icons linked to almost any subject you care to name. One of the best places to start is the Windows 95 Theme Archive, where you can find everything from exotic animals and sci-fi monsters to cheesy 60's and 70's sitcoms. The site contains full download and installation instructions, plus the necessary Themes installation software, it can be found at:

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