Thus far we've been fairly chipper about Windows 98, and it does seem that for the majority of users, upgrades and new installations proceed without incident. When it works it works well, and it does appear to be more stable than its predecessor but web watchers may have noticed that not everyone is jumping for joy….

High on the list of early malcontents are several PC makers, notably Compaq, Dell and Toshiba, who have already expressed doubts about the new operating system. Most of the problems concern a lack of drivers or incompatibility with the BIOS on some of their PCs. Compaq has warned their customers of a number of faults. One of the most serious involves the CD-ROM drives on Presario models, which do not work in the DOS mode. Several Dell Latitude notebook machines (CP, Cpi, XpiCD and LM) require upgrade files, before Windows 98 will behave itself, and owners of Toshiba PCs with ACPI Bios have reported registry conflicts. The registry is a large and very important file containing vital information about the computer, and the software that it uses.

Microsoft and the manufacturers concerned all seem to be working hard to resolve the problems. You can find more information, and where applicable, software patches and workarounds, on their Internet web sites (see below for details).

Windows 98 installations have also been running into trouble on PCs with large and untidy Registry files. The Registry can become littered with fragments and clutter, particularly on machines where a lot of programs are installed, and subsequently deleted. Fans of magazine cover-mounted CD-ROMs take note. Anyone thinking about upgrading should also heed our previous warnings about backing up essential files before starting the installation, and saying yes to the option to backup Windows 95, so the original configuration can be recovered, if anything goes wrong.  

Even when the installation has apparently gone smoothly there can still be difficulties, and there are plenty of stories doing the rounds on the Internet at the moment, about the failure of Windows 98 to recognise certain peripherals. Modems, scanners and printers seem to be the worst hit. It's a little too early to say if this affects particular brands more than others but it's worth checking the web sites of any manufacturers whose products you're using.  These types of faults tend to be less serious and in a lot of cases can be resolved by the Add/Remove hardware utility in Control Panel.

That brings us to the wider subject of what to do, if an application or Windows 98 throws a wobbly. Help is always a good place to start when something goes wrong and the new design on Win 98 makes it easier to find your way around. Incidentally, this is the first major change to Help since the original release of Windows 1.0 in 1983. The new Help works like an Internet web page, with underlined links to other related topics, and direct access to the KnowledgeBase, on the Microsoft web site (assuming it's not the modem that has stopped working…). There you will find the most up to date information and reports concerning Windows 98 and other MS products, that could be connected with your problem. Like earlier versions of Help it will also open folders and launch utilities from within Control Panel and Explorer.

The first place to go for any obvious hardware-related conflicts is Device Manager. It looks much the same as the one in Windows 95 and can be found by clicking on the System icon in Control Panel. Problems with drivers are flagged up with yellow exclamation marks. You can have a go at solving obvious faults by deleting and re-installing corrupt or misbehaving driver software. There's the same set of options for delving deeper into the netherworld of DMAs, IRQs and memory resources. However, unless you know what you are doing it's a good idea to leave them well alone.

There are several new trouble-shooting and diagnostic utilities designed to make it easier to pinpoint software disorders. They can be found in the Accessories folder under System Tools. The most useful one is System Information, which gathers together key data about your computer. The opening window gives a very complete picture of the PC including a nifty 'Uptime' meter that shows how long it has been in use. The left side of the screen provides a close up view of the PC's hardware, external components and software; it's fairly heavy going for non-specialists but those familiar with the innards of their machines will find it invaluable.

The Tools menu on System Information launches a set of handy problem-solving utilities. Windows Report collects data and records critical system files, for back up and scrutiny by engineers, if it needs expert attention. System File Checker does just that, scanning all of the computers critical files for errors. Registry Checker inspects that vital and mysterious folder for glitches and there's a new version of Dr Watson, for diagnosing tricky faults. System Configuration Utility zooms in on the all-important start-up files, including autoexec.bat, config.sys, system.ini, and startup. They may not mean a lot to you, if you're new to PCs but alongside each line of gobbledegook text there's a reassuring tick box, that confirms all's well, or not, as the case may be. Finally, on the Tools menu there's a short cut to Scandisk, which checks the integrity of the hard disc drive and its file structure, and Version Conflict Manager, that keeps an eye out for files that are likely to disagree with one another.

The upshot of all this is that Windows 98 is well equipped to deal with problems, and it should make it easier to find the causes, though not necessarily the cures. However, it's still early days and only time will tell if we can expect the same fun and games we had with Windows 95.




Basic Input Output System, a set of instructions that tells your PC what it is connected to, and how to communicate with devices like hard disc drive and memory chips


Direct Memory Access -- process whereby large amounts of information is transferred from the hard disc to the RAM memory chips.


Drivers are small programs that tell Windows how to communicate with a particular piece of hardware, like a mouse, modem, joystick or printer


Interrupt Request -- a set of instructions that enable the processor to manage a succession of tasks in sequence


A large, constantly changing file in Windows 95 containing details of how your PC is set up, and all the programs stored on the hard disc



Just in case we do get a summer this year you should make sure your PC is well ventilated as the combination of a hot office and poor air flow can result in erratic behaviour. Check that the fan is working properly and if there is a build-up of dust around the grille, clear it with a clean paintbrush. Use a vacuum cleaner hose to suck out fluff and debris from the back of the machine. Remove any clutter from the front and side ventilation slots. Don't forget the monitor, now would be a good time to file those papers that are piling up on the top and blocking the vents. Peel off any stickers and furry creatures that could obstruct cooling air.



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