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Reflections of a ModemJunkie

I apologize if you were led to this month's column as the result of an error in my CIWA announcement. Click above to get to the complete archive. OTOH, you may enjoy this article anyway. Len.

July, 1998

Installing Windows 98 -- On the Cutting Edge

by Leonard Grossman

Well, the awful heat seems to have broken, just before dark tonight there was another thunderstorm and then fresh, cool air....and not a second too soon. Deadline approaches and it has been just too hot to think. At least that is my excuse. Not that I haven't had any ideas about what to write: Windows 98, Upgrading Hardware, etc., etc. Indeed, during the last few weeks, there have been lots of ideas bouncing around my frantic skull. I have come up with great titles for this month's ramblings but they rolled around bumping into one another without sorting themselves out.

Here, in no particular order, are a few of them:

Because It's There

What is it about new equipment, faster processors, more memory? What is it about the latest software? Why do we need to update and upgrade so often? Was it so long ago that I abandoned the trusty 286 - - the one I had to be talked up to from that special on the XT with a 20 meg hard drive - - for the Pawnshop Special, a 386 with 4 megs of ram? Wasn't it just last summer that I upgraded the motherboard to 486/100? Didn't I just replace those one meg SIMMS with 32 megs of RAM? Why do I need a new computer?

Well it's summer again. And a few weeks ago one of those moments occurred that challenge the resistance of full grown otherwise sensible human beings. The Final Beta of Windows 98 arrived. Two CD's just waiting to be installed.

But where to install them? The Pawnshop Special was working fine (except for a balky floppy drive and a tape backup it wouldn't recognize any more and some conflicts between my video drivers and my favorite Web browser ) but there was no way to cram Windows 98 onto even its recently upgraded hard drives. And besides the Special was loaded with legacy stuff. Almost every application I ever had was carried forward as I upgraded and updated my machines. DOS 3.x on top of 2.x. 5.0 on top of that. and then the whole series of 6.xes as MS tinkered with Stacker and Drivespace and Doublespace and double talk. Then Windows for WorkGroups (Win 3.11). Even an install and uninstall of the Windows 95 betas as I discovered I really didn't have enough resources to run it right back then.

During all that time, never a clean install. Always one system on top of another. Even when I traded the 286 for the Special, I copied my whole drive forward. When something crashed who could tell why. It could be anything with all that junk in there.

So if I was going to do Win 98 it had to be clean. But I need some of that old junk. And upgrading the Special just didn't seem to make sense as prices dropped for new machines. Isn't that what everyone says. Nice how other people spend my money.

Anyway time to watch the papers. Study prices. follow the *.forsale newsgroups.

I found a great buy on an almost new machine -- only five or six hundred bucks. Way out in the country though. Would have been a nice excuse for a Spring drive but my wife is working weekends. No car.. Stuck at home.

So to save a few hundred bucks on a computer I spent ten thousand on a car.... but that is another story. (I will reveal that somehow I passed up that beautiful, red, 79 MG ragtop also sitting on the lot. -- Be still my beating heart. My wife said she wouldn't have been surprised.)

So ready to roll, I sent another e-mail to the countryside: "I am on my way," I said. "Not so fast," came the reply: "Couldn't wait any longer. The machine is gone. Sorry."

Well, I thought, I didn't really neeeeeeed that machine. Why spend half a grand just to try some free software. But then an envelope from FedEx arrived. Windows98. The public release!!. Complete!! and by separate cover, the 98 Plus Pack. (Note: Win98 The Plus Pack alone requires 150 meg for the install.

A friend of mine retired a few years ago. I helped him buy a computer. He bought a 486. I think it was a 66 Megahertz machine. All he used on it was a copy of WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. He could barely use that. A few weeks ago he called his old secretary to help him copy some files to a floppy. Something went wrong -- the files disappeared. After all, she had switched to Windows years ago as well. It is hard to walk someone through a process you haven't used in years. Somehow, instead of copying the files he had deleted them all.

Fortunately, when I helped him set up the machine I gave him one of the last new copies of Lotus Magellan I was able to buy at a close out and installed it on his machine. This is not the place for another lament for the greatest little piece of software ever written but I still keep a copy of Magellan on a floppy. There is a copy on this P166. It keeps bailing me out of trouble.

Over the phone, I walked him through Magellan's undelete process. He was able to recover more than two dozen legal files he had created in retirement.

When we were all done, I asked him why he needed to copy the files. "Well." he said, "I have this copy of AOL 4.0 and it won't install. I talked to AOL support and they told me I needed a Pentium and more RAM. Otherwise I can't use my 50 free hours." Did I do him a disservice a few years ago? He still doesn't really need the upgrade does he? But AOL 4.0 is there.

Why do we need new software? Because it's cool. Because it leaves you breathless. Because it strains all your resources. Like Mt. Everest. Because it is there.

Just Behind the Curve

As I said, Win98 was waiting to be installed. I had only 50 megs of space free on both hard drives combined. My wife keeps battling me for the old machine so she can actually _work_ on it. She uses it in her real estate business. WORK? Is that what these machines are for? And my daughter is home from college and an AOL junkie. She seems offended if I want to get online while she is home.

As I said, I guess I am not the one to talk, I think it really is the time to upgrade -- for me. But what to buy? With prices falling it really would be tempting to buy that dream machine. But with the "new" car and college tuition it just doesn't make sense. So I began checking prices again and frantically following the .forsale newsgroups. Price points are pretty close. I missed a good deal on a Super 266 with SCSI drives. Another machine seemed a little too limited. So I settled on a P166MMX assembled by someone out there in netland in The Land Beyond O'Hare. Since I have a house full of modems I talked him into pulling the internal modem (can't stand those things anyway I need to see the blinking LEDs) and upgrading from 32 megs of EDO RAM to 64 of SDRAM. With a used 15 inch Energy Star monitor and a 16 speed CD-ROM thrown in. It was a bargain at under $650.

Yes, I know. For $50 more here or a hundred there, perhaps I could have gotten a P266 or better. Or a 24x CD-ROM. But, I have always felt it should not be necessary to have all that to do what I do most often: Communicate and use a word processor Both things I did well with Telix and WP 5.1 on my old 286 with 1 meg of ram and a 40 meg hard drive. The only reason I ever upgraded to a 386 at all was to be able to use a graphical browser. I am not always sure it is worth it. The explosion of the Web has definitely made more information available but it is not always as easy to find. And Telix DOS works fine under Win98. Ever tried Lynx?

But I stray. I do have one other reason to upgrade. I like to write these columns. There is just too much out there that requires a Pentium today. Without a new machine I can't review it. Still, I don't have to have the latest. And if I don't neither do many of the others out there who broke the family bank to get that higher-end 486 in the last two years. The pressure to upgrade should be resisted.

But Win98 awaited.

It was a hot Father's Day weekend. One with lots of chores and events . . . All over town. But late Saturday night my daughter and I found our way to an apartment complex in Hoffman Estates. We got lost on the way but thanks to our cell phone (another essential) we got directions. While on the phone, I chatted with the seller. The machine came with a complete set of Win95. It was one of those with the back up files on the hard drive. All you had to do was sit down one night with a case of floppies and make your self a set.

Did I want to pick it up that way - - or since I was going to do a clean install, should he FDISK and format the machine right away. Should make life simpler. "Go ahead,' I said. "Well," he said. Why don't I leave 95 on the system 'til you get here. Then I can show you that it is operable and explain some of the features."

Good idea, I thought. When we got there he was very patient. He walked me through everything on the machine. Hardware and software. It was a real lesson. His daughter brought out juice and cookies. The machine worked like a dream.

Then the fateful moment. "Sure you want a clean disk", he asked one more time. I nodded and a few minutes later the machine rebooted in FAT 32. A small autoexec.bat and config.sys loaded the CD-ROM so I could do my install. At last after all these years I would do a clean install. Leave the legacy behind.

We carefully packed the new mini tower and the monitor in the back seat and headed home. Only a short stop at WallMart for a new mouse and a surge protector . . . but still it was late and hot by the time we got home.

It was too late and hot to do the install. There wasn't even room on the desk.

My daughter was excited. She wanted to help. But I was too tired. Even a little shaky (I don't spend money easily.) She was disappointed. But if I am too tired to play with a new toy you know I am really tired.

I awoke at 3:00 a.m. A cool breeze was blowing. I cleared up the junk in my study. Moved the old PC over to the side. And brought up the new equipment. In the cool night air, I set everything up. Checked the wiring. It was ready for the install.

I was all set for Windows 98.

So once again. There I was. A new computer. Once again, just slightly behind the curve.


I am not sure I ever got back to sleep. I was anxious to get going. Amazing what three hours sleep and a new toy will do. But Sarah slept in. Still I waited. Helping me set it up was going to be her Father's Day present to me. (Well, that's in addition to the photo of herself in a beautiful frame and the tie and the suit that Mom picked out that doesn't fit, yet -- I haven't had any time to go to the tailor -- I've got software to install.)

Finally, a little after 10:00 a.m. she arose. We opened the shrink wrap and popped in the CD, scarcely paying attention to the word "upgrade" on he package.

The machine immediately found the CD-ROM and began the setup. I clicked along merrily for a few minutes. Oddly, some prompts required [cr] to accept an option and [esc] to reject it while others were just the opposite. I suppose that is to keep you on your toes. It just confused me. It prompted me for the awful 25 character product key (password) I would come to hate. Everything going fine.

Then a dialogue box popped open. It was looking for a copy of an earlier version of Windows. BUT WE HAD FORMATTED THE HARD DRIVE!!

Now I looked at the manual.

There is a section entitled "Before You Begin." Nowhere on that page does it say, "WARNING IF YOU ARE DOING A CLEAN INSTALL MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR OLD INSTALLATION DISKS HANDY."

There is a section entitled "Running Windows 98 Setup." Nowhere on that page does it say, "WARNING IF YOU ARE DOING A CLEAN INSTALL MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR OLD INSTALLATION DISKS HANDY."

There is a section entitled "Installing from Windows 98." Nowhere on that page does it say, "WARNING IF YOU ARE DOING A CLEAN INSTALL MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR OLD INSTALLATION DISKS HANDY."

Several pages later there is a section called "Performing a New Installation." On the second page of those instructions - - Page 30 of the" Getting Started manual, following the eighth item in the instructions, there is the following note: "If you're using the upgrade version of Windows 98, Setup may ask you to insert your original Windows 95 or Windows 3.1 disks." PAGE 30!! It should be on the box: "WARNING IF YOU ARE DOING A CLEAN INSTALL MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR OLD INSTALLATION DISKS HANDY." But it isn't there.

Now I have had a number of machines with Windows on them. Most of them came that way. I have installation disks around here somewhere. But I can't even match my patterned socks in this clutter. (Another year's Father's day present was 4 pair of patterned socks. I usually stick to plain black so I don't have to try to match them in the morning gloom. But one year four pair of DIFFERENTLY patterned socks. I can never wear them. They look like new. Only on rare occasions do the same two show up in the same drawer.) I have a floppy or two with DOS 2.2 and 3.x and 5 and . . . but my old Windows disks . . . Finding them would be impossible.. Especially in that heat. And the clutter. With two P.C.s in this room I can barely get to my desk much less the shelves behind it.

Success!! I found a set of back up disks I made for Windows long ago. We tried the install again. You always have to start from the beginning. Back to that godawful password.. And then . . .nothing. It was a homemade backup made back in the days when I was more careful. Right after a virus attack had infected almost all of my disks. The disks were not official. And Win98 knew it.

Why did we ever format that hard drive? It would have been so easy to install over Win95 and then convert to FAT32. But somehow that conversion process scared me.

Back to the drawing board. It is getting hotter. I have missed a Father's Day Brunch with friends. I am getting cross. Several phone calls led to the idea that perhaps I could copy from my old machine onto a floppy from the old machine. Maybe that would satisfy the authentication monster. Did I mention a balky floppy drive on the old machine? Now it wouldn't read at all.

Why didn't I read that $#^%#$^% manual FIRST....and carefully?

On the Cutting Edge

Well... Now the solution seemed to be to somehow get that floppy working. I opened the box on the old case (I never screw the case down anyhow anymore) and started fiddling with the ribbon connectors.) Nothing worked. Then I remembered. On the back porch there was the semi-melted remains of a Pentium Pro that had been through a fire. The floppy drive looked good. I grabbed the machine by the rails that hold the drive bay in place. I took it out on the deck so I could see what I was doing. Suddenly I noticed blood -- over everything. I didn't feel anything but the rail on the PC was like a razor. It had sliced across two fingers when I grabbed it. I washed the cuts and put on band-aids. But the blood kept bubbling out.

There is an emergency room a few blocks away. My wife drove me there. It was almost a relief sitting in the air conditioning (Did I mention I could probably air condition this house for what I have spent on computers this year?) But I was embarrassed sitting there with a little finger cut when there were people waiting with life and death problems. It only took one stitch but it really did need the stitch, the doctor assured me.

Any way I got back home and washed the blood off of the Pentium Pro. I had to remove the motherboard to get at the floppy. To make a longer story a little shorter.. suffice to say I never got the floppy drive working.

What to do next??

Brilliant Idea!! I moved the modem back to the old machine and FTP'd the up to my ISPs server. Then I used my wife's lap top to download it and copied it on to a floppy. (Why it never dawned on me to take the file from my wife's laptop or my daughter's I'll never know... must have been the heat and stress) I inserted it into the new machine and started the install once again. Once again I typed in the 25 digit password. I held my breath. Guess what? It didn't work.

Needless to say I tried several other solutions each with the same result.

Finally I went to bed.

Peace at Last

The next night I came home from work ready to try again. And there, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a CD-ROM. It was a Windows installation disk I had not seen in years. Why I couldn't find it the previous day I'll never know.

I started the install. One more time I typed that password. When prompted I took out the Win98 disk and popped in the old installation disk. Almost instantly I was prompted to replace the disk with the Win98 setup disk and the installation proceeded. How smooth and easy that was. RTFM-F.

I watched as it did its thing. It prompted me to insert a blank disk and created a Win98 boot disk. About half an hour later it advised me that it was going to reboot. It did. A Win98 splash screen appeared. At the bottom it said, "Loading Windows for the First Time."

About 45 seconds elapsed. I heard the hard drive clicking away. But nothing happened. Then the dreaded notice. A blank screen appeared with a legend something like. "Windows Failed to Load."

Well, I tried it over and over. Finally I got a hold of the friend from whom I bought the machine. I mentioned his patience before. Now his patience really showed. He walked me through everything time and time again. Each time the same result.

He thought it might not be recognizing the video card he had installed. We tried booting into safe mode and discovered that in Win98 you can't add or change devices in safe mode. That's a step back. I thought that was one of the main purposes of safe mode. How else can you change a conflicting driver?

Then he got a great idea. "Let's FDISK and format and start all over."

Boy, am I glad I had that boot disk.

Anyway "we" FDISKED and reformatted the drive and started over. Then we started the install one more time. One more time I typed the password, one more time I swapped in the old CD-ROM. From start to finish the install took well under an hour or two days depending on how you count.

Peace at last. Oh, Lord, Peace at last.

(And then FedEx called. They have my copy of Corel8.)

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Copyright 1998 Leonard Grossman

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