A NEW TECHLINE SERIES by Jim Youngquist

ĎI just want it to work!í

[JAN. 5, 2001]  Computer users come to us all the time saying the same thing: "Just make it work, please!" And we try to deliver exactly what they want. But many computer users get themselves into situations with nonworking or poorly performing systems as a result of their own actions and their own choices.

This TECHLINE series is designed to clear up some of the myths and the misunderstandings, so that your computer system will work better and be wrecked less often, and to relieve some of the frustrations you may be experiencing.

Chapter 1

Which Windows is right for me and my computer?

Last summer I was working in the LDN booth at the county fair. Our booth was right next door to a booth selling remodeling supplies for homes. They had windows, doors and siding on display, but I really hadnít noticed that booth at all.

The days were a little slow, and we went out of our way to talk to people as they came by the booth. When I saw a guy coming down the aisle, I stepped out of our booth and greeted him in the aisle as he came along. He responded with interest, so I struck up a conversation, intending to promote Lincoln Daily News. I asked him if he had Windows at home (I meant on his computer system), and he looked at me like I was a moron.

I thought this was a little curious until we went further in the conversation, only to discover that he thought I sold windows and doors at the home improvement booth and was asking him if he had windows in his house (my duh!). It was hysterically funny at the time, but maybe you had to be there.

Microsoft Windows is the most prevalent computer operating system on the planet right now, and if you have a computer at home or at work, the odds are that you perform most of your computer operations in Windows.

Computer users are always asking "Which Windows is right for what Iím doing?" or "Should I upgrade to that new version?" Here is a helpful guide to determine if the Windows you are using is the best for your application, your software needs and is appropriate to your computer hardware. The list is presented in chronological order based on release dates.

Totally obsolete

Windows 1.0 or 2.0 ó These are ancient Windows versions, werenít really designed to do anything in particular, and are of little worth or benefit in todayís computing environment. If someone offers to give or sell you a computer with any version of Windows prior to 3.1, let them know kindly that you arenít interested.

Windows 3.0 ó Another prehistoric Windows version which lends absolutely no support for modern software applications or the Internet. This was the first task-switching version of Windows, runs on top of DOS and, like versions 1.0 or 2.0, belongs in a museum rather than on a computer system that you own.

Somewhat obsolete

Windows 3.1 or Windows 3.11 or Windows for Workgroups 3.11 ó Windows 3.1 or 3.11 is not really an operation system but rather an operating environment. It is still in use on many computer systems across the world today. It works OK for many applications but is severely limited in most modern respects. It runs on DOS 5.0 through DOS 6.22, gives poor support to those Windows applications that were designed for it and provides no support for Windows 9x programs. It was plagued by GPF errors (renamed OE errors in the next version of Windows. It also lacked driver support for many of the devices you could buy on the market. It uses the Program Manager as its interface and is a little confusing to use when you have a large number of Windows programs.

It can, however, provide you with a rudimentary Internet connection, but it really lacks the supporting drivers for 56K modems (to run at anything more than 33.6K)

If your computer system is a 386, 486 or 586-class computer system with less than 16M of memory, stick with Windows 3.1 or 3.11. An upgrade to Windows 95, 98 or ME may be totally inappropriate, run too slow, or force you to put the old system down and buy a new one before its useful life is really over.

 

Windows NT 3.0, 3.5 ó Server and workstation software based on the original 3COM/IBM/Microsoft LanManager model. IBM went on to craft OS/2, Microsoft developed NT 4.0, and 3Com was just plain out of the picture. These versions suffered from early bug-a-losis. If you have either of these server versions, consider an upgrade to NT 4.0 or Windows 2000. Be aware that newer versions of these operating systems require a great deal more hardware than their predecessors.

Current operating systems

Windows 95 ó Windows 95 will run on a fast 486 system (100 MHz or better) with a minimum of 8 MB of RAM, although it will be deadly slow and unable to run any applications. For best minimum results, 95 should be run on a Pentium-compatible system (Pentium 1, II or III, K6-II or better) with 32MB RAM. A minimum 200M hard drive is required, but we recommend 1.2 to 2Gís of hard drive space.

Windows 95 has been released in three different versions ó A, B and C (otherwise named versions 1, 2 and 2.5). You can identify which version of Windows 95 you have by right-clicking on the My Computer icon and choosing properties. The version of Windows 95 that you have installed will be indicated under the words System: Windows 95 in the right-hand column of that window (B is B, C is C, and if there isnít a B or C on that third line, then you can safely guess that itís version A).

Version A (1) was rudimentary in its abilities and suffered from recurring errors (OE errors). It was a dramatic change in look and feel from DOS-based Windows 3.1/3.11 and provided a good platform for PC software. It has a good library of device drivers available right out of the box and is still considered a current operating system today.

Version B (2) is a maintenance release of Windows 95. It is far more robust than Version A, presents fewer errors and has an even greater library of device drivers (like USB drivers, for instance). It also has far better support for plug-and-play devices and systems.

Version C (2.5) was released about a year before Windows 98 and does incorporate many of the features that came out with Windows 98.

Versions B and C are adequate and stable operating systems by todayís standards. They provide good support for software applications, adequately use available memory and hard drive space (FAT32), and provide a good platform for Internet applications.

If you have Version A on your system, you might consider an upgrade to Version B or C. According to Microsoft, your Windows 95 license allows you to install any version of 95, and an upgrade to B or C will probably give your system new life and greater stability at a very agreeable price (since you donít have to actually buy Windows). Consider this option instead of upgrading to Windows 98 or ME.

Windows NT 4.0 comes in both server and workstation versions, and its interface is like Windows 95. In comparison to Windows 95, it is slow, has too few drivers, and does not have plug and play. The primary feature of NT 4.0 is security. If you need to be able to keep people out of your files and off your system, NT provides a great deal more security than 95 or 98. In its server incarnation, NT 4.0 is a good operating system. It is stable, and it allows for add-in applications such as SQL server and Exchange. Consult the O/S manual for hardware specifications and always err on the side of having more, not less, than the specs.

If you currently are running NT 4.0 and do not need any new add-ins, consider staying with NT 4.0 server. As for NT 4.0 workstation, consider upgrading to Windows 2000 for the driver and plug-and-play support.

 

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Windows 98 comes in two current versions: 98 and SE. SE was released to fix some of the bugs in the first version of 98 but really does not give you any new features. 98 is very stable and flashes around a little better than 95 (in 95 you could do some tweaking under the hood and make it appear faster like 98). Windows 98 is on more than half of the computers that are in use today.

We recommend a Pentium processor system (Pentium 1, II or III, K6-II or better) with 32MB RAM (64 is better, and 128MB is even better). The more RAM you have in the system, the happier and smoother 98 runs. A minimum 500M hard drive is required, but we recommend 2Gís or more of available hard drive space.

Windows 98 provides good support for modern software applications, for Internet access and for games. An upgrade to SE will not give you any new features (that this writer is aware of).

 

Windows 2000 is an NT-compatible product. Consider it as an upgrade from NT workstation or server. As a workstation product, it provides excellent security. It now has plug-and-play capability, adequate support for communications, and a grand army of drivers for just about all the devices on the market today. If you are accustomed to a Windows 9x interface, 2000 will throw you for a loop. They have changed the location of most of the familiar things (like Dial-Up Networking). The downside to 2000 is that it is a resource hog, costs a great deal more than 98 or ME, and runs a little too slow for my tastes.

2000 Server is a fine product and gives support to a whole new generations of APIs ó programs which run on top of the server operating system to give added features and functionality to your network. 2000 Server makes an adequate platform for an Internet server, a LAN server or even a WAN communications server. It is extremely stable and more configurable than NT 4.0. But just like its workstation cousin, it requires much greater resources than NT 4.0 did. Consult with a computer professional or a good book to determine hardware needs ahead of time.

 

Windows ME is Microsoftís latest workstation software. The interface is just like 98ís, with some new bells and whistles tacked on around the outside. They say they have now completely eradicated the DOS layer, thus making ME boot up quicker, and it seems to run with more stability than any previous workstation generation (estimated to give you 20 days of run time without an error and without booting).

ME installs cleanly out of the box as long as you arenít doing an upgrade (it doesnít upgrade Windows 3.1/3.11 machines and seems to corrupt important files when upgrading 95 or 98 machines). Our recommendation is to do a clean, new install of ME.

The interface is cleaner, leaner and flashes around faster than 98SE. It has a few new visual features such as menu fades, a new look and feel for the desktop, and a few new games. But underneath, it is still Windows 95/98. Donít expect new gadgets or new adventures.

ME works well with the Pentium II, Celeron and Pentium III processors. It requires 32M of RAM, but again, the more RAM, the merrier your computing experience will be. We recommend 6G or more hard drive space for ME installations.

Microsoft gave ME the least amount of media hype and attention since Windows 2.0. I havenít figured this out yet, but the result has been mediocre adoption by the public. Gateway and Dell are still loading 98 on some new models, and you should consider how well your system is currently running before upgrading to this new O/S. Remember, donít try to fix what ainít broken.

Some final considerations

  • Existing Windows problems are usually made worse or magnified by a Windows upgrade. Only consider upgrading when the current version of Windows is no longer serving your purposes and when the new version has features that you want to adopt.
  • Pay close attention to the hardware requirements when considering a Windows upgrade. If you throw too little processor speed, too little hard disk space or too little RAM at a Windows version, you end up with an invalid or crippled computer. If your existing operation system is slow on your computer, the new version of Windows will likely be slower.
  • There is a great deal of hype in the marketplace to drive you to spend money. But the newest version of Windows may not deliver any more bang for the buck than your existing version.
  • Pay close attention to platform choices. If you are currently on the 95/98 platform, you probably donít want to change to the NT or 2000 platform unless your main desire is security.
  • Windows 95, 98 and ME are not meant to be network servers. Sure, they will allow you to share their printer functions and share files on a peer-to-peer basis with other systems on a network, but they are not fast enough, stable enough or optimized to be a file server. Get NT or Windows 2000 Server when server performance is desired.
  • The best Windows installations are always clean, new, just-disked-my-hard-drive installations. Have all the drivers and a good backup made ahead of time to make your installation more successful. And be ready for things to go badly.
  • Never attempt an installation or an upgrade when you have pressing work to do. Murphyís Law is alive and wellÖ. The more pressure there is to get done in a short period of time, the more likely it is that you will fail entirely, lose your work and exceed your deadline.
  • Invest some time investigating the settings you have in your current Windows version before you begin the installation of a new version. The amount of investigative time you spend writing down settings, file locations, etc. is in direct proportion to the amount of time it takes you to successfully install the new version.
  • Remember, to get the latest features from software, often you have to have the newest version of the operating system.
  • The newest version of the operating system may also have unresolved programming problems (otherwise known as bugs). Wait for the reviews to come in before upgrading to the newest version.
  • Donít be afraid to consult or hire a computer professional. Remember, itís not just your computer ó itís your life weíre talking about here.

[Jim Youngquist]

ABE LINCOLN

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