Web Informant #119, 21 July 1998:
One tale of upgrading to Win98


Some of you might remember the Windows 95 launch: Microsoft buying up things like the Stones "Start Me Up" tune, the Empire State Building's night-time lighting decor, an entire press run of the London Times, and such. So it was someone of a surprise that Microsoft has managed to sell over a million copies of Windows 98 in a the past few weeks -- without spending all the many hundreds of millions in marketing dollars they did three years ago.

Perhaps that represents a shrewd move on their part: people were willing to upgrade out of desperation, perceived need, or the chance to be seen on TV queuing up at their local computer store at midnight. Here is one perspective, from Dale Hobart, the webmaster at Ferris State (Mich.) University (Dale_Hobart@ferris.edu). Take it away, Dale.

Yes, I was one of those who installed Windows 98 the day it went on sale. I still felt that need to have the latest and greatest. I did my installation on what isn't anywhere near the state of the art machine: a 200 MHz Pentium with 128 megabytes of RAM. That machine has been fine for me to do general web site work: there are others in my shop who have the whizzy machines for doing graphics, photography, and video.

Of course, The Day After I got Win98 installed I saw all kinds of dire warnings posted around the net. These included how Lotus Notes would crash and a warning from Dell saying not to install the operating system without checking their web site to see if your model was compatible with Windows 98. I was reading these warnings in Notes on a Dell computer running Windows 98.

The initial result after my upgrade was that I now had a computer that did not run as well as it had when it was running Windows 95. Sure, I reclaimed some disk space, about 550 megabytes. That was nice. However, I could not read a floppy disk, my sound card was acting up and Notes would occasionally crash. This last problem required a reboot to fix.

So I went to the web to try to fix my problems. I started with the sound card but found nothing new from Creative Labs. I found beta drivers for my video card -- installing them relieved some of the sound problems but did not cure them. (I always check for new video drivers no matter what the problem is and have solved a wide range of problems with new video drivers.)

I finally went to Dell's site only to discover that they said it would run Windows 98 just fine. I always suspected that my machine wasn't Year 2000-ready and so while I was at the Dell support site I checked that and sure enough I needed a BIOS update to make the computer Y2K compliant.

This last update was a miracle. My sound problems went away. Notes did not crash. I can access my floppy drive. Indeed, my system has not locked up or crashed at all since the BIOS upgrade.

Of course, you are probably thinking by now that maybe I should have just upgraded the BIOS and stuck with Windows 95, do the FAT32 deal to get the extra 550 megabytes and be done. Perhaps you are right. However, this is the most stable version of DOS or Windows that I have ever run and I think just that is worth the price.

But there is a bigger issue: where does all this upgrading leave the novice when it comes time to making an operating system change? I think that I am pretty good at this and it took me a while to get everything working at a level that equaled or surpassed the performance before the upgrade. I can't even blame Microsoft for my upgrade problems. I'm amazed that the numbers of people having upgrade problems is not 10 or 20 times more than there are. There are so many manufacturers of systems and infinite permutations and variations within those systems. The miracle is not that Windows 98 can be installed by users with some problems but that anyone can install it at all!

I can't decide whether or not I need or want to be on the cutting edge of technology anymore. I'm getting to the point where I want to be a little more selective in what I install. For example, I used to install just about every beta product around. That has changed. I can't convince myself that betas are worth the time and effort anymore. The 1.0 version is the only beta that I will try these days.

Maybe we are at a point where the improvements in our computing platforms have reached a plateau. The difference between using WordStar on a C/PM 8080-based machine and using Word on a Pentium is very substantial and there were many large steps between them. But less so is the difference in using Word 6 on a state of the art machine from the time it was released and Word 97 on today's fastest computers. I guess you could say that I'm learning to temper my love of technology. I'm getting older and want to go outside and play.

David Strom
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