WIN98....The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly  ani-shad.gif (1936 bytes)

WIN98 and WIN98 second edition ( SE as Microsoft calls it ) are finally here with all of Microsoft's marketing talents ramming it down our throats. Is is really a good product? Do I need it? Can I run it on my machine? Can I upgrade my WIN95 machine to WIN98 without pain? As with anything from Microsoft, the answer is much more complicated than the commercials lead you to believe.

The Good

The best thing that WIN98 has to offer is the enhanced driver support. WIN98 second edition even has IE 5.0 built in. Look at the hardware wizard screen. I have shown two views because the list is huge. It would take three views to cover all the hardware wizard, but you get the idea. In contrast WIN95's list is weak 3D accelerators, GPS cards, Scanners, Tape drive controllers, etc. -- all of these and more are new and built into '98. This is great and saves a ton of time trying to find a driver for some weird piece of hardware.

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When PCs started to get newer, fancier chipsets, enhanced audio cards, etc. WIN95 couldn't begin to keep up. Well, they really didn't try to hard either. In order for your PC to function properly, if at all, the dealer had to do custom driver installations for the HD controllers, USB ports, the audio cards, network adapters, and the video card. End users could install WIN95 by themselves, but without proper installation of all of the support drivers, the PC would crash constantly or run slowly. The Intel 430TX and 440LX chipset drivers for the hard drive controller, PIIX4, for example, more than doubled the transfer rates to a UDMA33 HD. WIN98 has a lot of these drivers built into the product. A lot of the chipset features went unused because of poor driver support. Despite the common belief, WIN95 is quite stable once the dealer installed all of the drivers properly. The key word is properly. It was almost impossible for the end user to do this task. WIN98 has changed that.

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Shown above is a typical screen in the Device Manager of WIN95. During the OEM installation the Ethernet card, a PCI bridge, and the OPL3-SA3 sound card are all seen by the software. WIN95 didn't have the correct drivers, however, so these wound up in the Other devices hole. In this example the MB is the Intel AL440LX PII. The sound card is the Yamaha OPL-SA3 built on the MB. The ethernet card is an Intel Etherexpress 100B. Under System devices and Hard disk controllers more drivers are either missing or wrong, but this screen still illustrates the point nicely.WIN95 didn't have the proper driver support. In the example above the sound card isn't even in the correct section. These devices had to be reconfigured after the initial installation procedure.

After deleting the ethernet adapter from the Other devices group and installing the proper drivers, the card shows up in the proper location. The pattern had to be repeated for several devices to get all of the hardware working properly. It was painful!

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WIN98 in contrast handles a lot of hardware automatically without any special effort. With the same hardware and a WIN98 OEM installation, the Device Manager screen is totally different. Look at the screens below.

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Notice the Intel 82371AB/EB PCI Bus Master IDE controller, Pro 100B ethernet card, and Yamaha sound card drivers all loaded from the WIN98 installation without any special effort. That is just fantastic.

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Under the System devices section the hardware components of the Intel 82371AB/82443LX/EX chipsets all show up. These drivers are critical to a fast, stable PC.

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Even the onboard, USB controller of the 82371AB/EB chipset functions properly. Again, WIN98 has saved huge amounts of time and frustration.

Laptops

WIN98SE can save a huge amount of time in laptop installations. Notebooks tend to have some strange hardware not found in desktop machines. Battery monitors, IrDa ports, PCMCIA card readers, odd ball sound chips --  the are a just a few examples of hardware the laptops use that are never found in desktop PCs. Finding the correct driver for these can be painful, and there is no guarantee that you will be able to account for all of these devices. WIN98SE 's huge driver library has most of the laptops drivers built into the CAB files. If you install '98SE from a scratch, OEM configuration, your cranky '95 laptop will often purr as a clean, 98 machine. Plus you will get a Y2K OS as a freebe. Do not run the '98 upgrade disk. If you want a stable laptop, start from an OEM, bare bones, installation of '98SE.

Not all laptops will run with '98 because of conflicts, so check with the laptop vendor before you start a '98 or '98SE installation.

The Bad

A lot of the screens of WIN98 look almost the same as WIN95 OEM 2.5, version C did. This was the latest release of '95. It only came with the a new PC from a dealer. Very few features of WIN98 are unique. Most of the enhancements claimed as new to '98 are there in the 2.1 to 2.5 versions of  '95. WIN98 is major revision from the original version of WIN95, but not from the latest OEM release.

Support for USB, for example, is in 2.x of WIN95, but is has to be manually installed after the basic installation is completed. Microsoft said 2.5 would make USB installation automatic. It wasn't. It never did work correctly unless it was installed manually.

I.E. 4.0 isn't new either. It was part of WIN95 2.5. As soon as the end user entered the serial number of his copy of WIN95, I.E. 4.0 loaded and took over the desktop. Twenty minutes later your PC has I.E. 4.0 running and had 52MB less HD space for important data. The end user had no way to override the installation. That was one of the DOJ's points in its lawsuit of Microsoft.

WIN98 is also bigger than WIN95, so it takes longer to get running. Start screens respond much slower, although the machine runs just fine. It also shuts down much quicker.

'98 2nd edition is even bigger than the first release, but at least it is Y2K compliant. The first release isn't.

Some things that were just fine under WIN95 don't work under WIN98, or even load

Some drivers will not even install under WIN98. While installing a video driver I received the message, "This software driver is designed for Windows 95. Please select an updated driver." It was the updated driver! I picked a different model of card from the same video card manufacturer, and its WIN95 driver installed flawlessly. The driver was three months older. Go figure.

A lot of drivers will crash on installation because of a WIN95/98 version stamp difference. All WIN95 version are 4.00.950 X where X is a version code. The original version of WIN95 ended in 0, the first patch was version A. SR2.1 ended in B, and 2.5 ended in C. Look in the driver's configuration file, you will find something like:

                      [Setup Disk]
                      Windows Version=4.00
                      Setup File=I128_SET.CFG

Look at the System Properties screen for WIN98, the version number is now 4.10

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The version number needs to be 4.10 or higher for WIN98 to accept it. Most of the time a simple text editing will fix the driver's configuration file. Change 4.00 to 4.10 and reload your driver.

Most drivers that are WIN95 compliant seem to be OK with WIN98. Most are but not all. You might have to get an updated driver from the manufacturer's WEB site, but that isn't a big deal usually. For your video card, be sure to have new drivers in hand before you start the WIN98 installation. In all cases be sure all of your hardware will run under WIN98 before you buy it. There might be a few old cards in the current PC that won't be able to run under '98.

In the case of video cards, WIN98 has a bigger and newer pool of drivers. That might not be of much help, however. A spot check of some of the major card drivers shows WIN98 added support for quite a few cards that WIN95 new nothing about, but most of these cards have long since been discontinued. For Number Nine video, for example, they added support for the 332 and 772 video cards. These were replaced with the 334, which is also fading out of existence, and the REV3D. Neither the drivers for the 334 or the REV3D are in WIN98, although both cards have in the channel long before WIN98 released.

Another annoying thing with '98 is the licensing screen. WIN95 had a long but fairly easy serial number to enter. It was three blocks of five numbers. If you accidentally transposed a digit or two, it still loaded. Microsoft decided that it was too easy to crack, so they did this:

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This serial number is alphanumeric and 25 digits long. Ouch! That means it looks for 25 to the 36th power of sequences.

All things considered, WIN98 looks a lot like the service pack that WIN95 never had, plus a lot of pretty, fluffy, disk hungry menus. If you already own WIN95 SR2.5 (version C on the System Properties screen), and your PC is stable, save your money.

The Ugly

WIN95 has always used CAB files in the OEM installation process. These are cabinet files, compressed versions of drivers, system files, etc. that WIN95 needs to operate. With these CAB files on your disk, you didn't need the WIN95 CD to get a standard driver. You told the installation wizard to look in the C:\WINDOWS\OPTIONS\CABS directory. ( They only copied over to the disk during a proper, dealer installation.) Most of the support drivers where there. It was a good idea. WIN95 1.0 had 17 CAB files. Version 2.1x had 21, and 2.5 had 26. These files are 1.5 to 2MB each, so they did take up space. WIN98 has 69!!

During installation all of the filenames whiz by for your amusement. Zillions of files with suffixes of HTM and GIF sail by at warp speed in addition to those 69 CAB files and hundreds of system files. The file count is huge. It takes an hour to do an automated installation of WIN98 on a fast machine, assuming you don't have any funky hardware. WIN95 2.5 took half that time. These GIF and HTM files are added to make the screens look nice and pretty. They don't do a thing for the free space on your HD.

WIN98 is a disk pig. It's that simple. You'll need a big HD. Be grateful 6.4GB and 8.4GB hard drives are cheap. If you partitioned your disk for FAT16, the standard DOS file structure, your maximum, primary partition is 2GB and uses 32K clusters. Even a 1K file would use 32K of disk space. Disk space is allocated in 32K chucks. So, a 48K file uses 64K of disk space. The difference between how large the file is and how much disk space it really needs is called slack. Remember all of those GIF and HTM files? A lot of them are small, so they waste space and have a lot of slack

So how big is WIN98? A WIN95 installation on a FAT16 partition takes 260MB. WIN98 uses 532MB!! Is that ugly or what? A WIN95 2.5 PC with a full OFFICE 97 Pro installation, Adobe Acrobat, Netscape, Eudora, video drivers, and a few other things takes 650MB. With WIN98 your are almost at that level before you add a single application.

A FAT32 partition, which is what WIN98 uses by default on a new disk, has 4KB clusters, so the slack factor is a lot lower. WIN98 on a FAT32 drive takes 422MB, 130MB less than a FAT16 drive. But FAT32 isn't recognized by anything but WIN95 or WIN98. A lot of   FAT16 software still exists out there. A lot of it will not even install on a FAT32 HD because it can't recognize the file structure.

In either case the number of files is huge, and WIN98 has so many graphically oriented screens. You better have a big, fast PC to run this OS.

Upgrading from WIN95 to WIN98

"Can I upgrade from WIN95 to WIN98 successfully?" It depends on what version of WIN95 and WIN98 that you have (WIN98 upgrade or OEM). The '98 OEM CD, which is only sold with a new PC, and WIN98 Upgrade are different products.

OEM upgrades

Early version of WIN95 could be upgraded to SR2.1, despite what Microsoft says. The procedure is on this site. The same problems that happen with '95 SR2.5C still occur with WIN98 OEM, however. Follow method #1 in upgrading from SR2.1 or earlier to OEM WIN98, and things seem to be OK. You might have to reinstall your video drivers, since '98's driver set is fairly large. It will will try to use its own driver set for everything that it can.

Do not try to upgrade with the OEM version of '98 if your PC has SR2.5C on it or if you installed I.E. 4.0. It will kill your machine!! This is a problem with I.E. 4.0 messing up the desktop. It is just as well, considering SR2.5 is almost the same as WIN98 anyway. Make sure that you use the WIn98 Upgrade CD instead.

The first big headache with an OEM upgrade is the CAB files do not copy over to the HD, so you will need to have the '98 CD around for driver updates and hardware installations. You should have it anyway if you bought it and didn't copy it from your friends!! A WIN98 HD should have a huge amount of free HD space on it. Remember '98 takes 553MB of space. Therefore, check your HD before you start any '98 upgrade.

A lot of the '98's new, fluffy, whiz-bang features don't run correctly or at all from this upgrade either. The '98 Welcome Screen is a good example. The Discover Windows '98 tour just dies because it wants setup files that did not install during the upgrade. The same problem happens with the Maintain your Computer Wizard for the same reason.

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WIN98 Upgrade CD

The WIN98 upgrade disk sold outright is your best bet for a clean installation on a '95 box if minimal work is your goal. Although please be aware that it is not a full '98 installation. Upgrades in any form are never as stable as a clean installation. The biggest reason is that your drivers and registry don't get cleaned up on an upgrade. They are quite clean and stable on an OEM installation, if done properly.  If you can you are much better off with a WIN98 OEM installation on a bare HD. All necessary drivers and CAB files copy to the HD correctly, and everything works. Your system will be much more stable. Make sure that install '98 2nd edition.

The Windows 98 Upgrade CD is not the full product that the OEM version is. It brings PCs running 3.1 and '95 up to '98 with a minimum of work. Everything does work, but it is a subset of the full '98 product. It takes about 30 minutes to load vs. the hour or more for the OEM version. After the upgrade CD installs on a WIN95 machine, a bare PC will have 370MB used on a FAT16 HD. This is only 110MB more than the original WIN95 OEM installation. The OEM version had over 550MB. The difference is the CAB files or rather the CAB and other files that don't get copied. The '98 OEM has sixty nine CAB files. The upgrade version leaves twenty eight on your disk. These CAB files contain drivers for new products. So with the '98 Upgrade CD, you will need to keep that CD handy for driver installation in the future. 

My poor HD used to be fast!

A lot of evil things can happen to your PC after you run the upgrade CD. One of the most common problem is what can happen to your HD. For a lot of people the Intel PIIX drivers that made your IDE HD scream now drag down your PC. You might be clicking on an ICON, and the PC might take several seconds to respond. Since your IDE drivers are at the root of the problem, your CDROM may be dead, too.

Microsoft isn't doesn't advertise these facts. The MS web page has a nice trouble shooting article on the subject. Unfortuneatley, the cure is to modify the registry, which can be quite dangerous. The article is at http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/q189/5/18.asp?FR=0.

It is a little tricky in this case. If you remove the PIIX bus mastering drivers or disable them before you run the upgrade, your CDROM may stop working. If you don't your PC may run like a pig afterwards. Some choice.

Keep in mind that WIN98 and WIN98 second edition have more graphics to load for each screen. More graphics means more CPU and hard drive time. If your machine isn't reasonably new '98 will slow you down from its shear size.

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