Win98 Bugs & Fixes
Win98 Bugs & Fixes
Our step-by-step guide shows you how to fix Win98's most common problems.
--by Fred Langa, Senior Consulting Editor
SIDEBAR: The Ultimate Windows Utility
SIDEBAR: Problem-Solving Sites
SIDEBAR: Free Tech Support (with the Web)
SIDEBAR: Free Tech Support (Without the Web)
SIDEBAR: Top Six Tips for Bug-Free Updates
If it had been up to us, the Windows logo wouldn't be a multicolored flag. We would have picked something that all Windows users could relate to, something that illustrates how Windows makes us feel day in and day out, something that instantly sums up Windows 98's pluses and minuses. Perhaps something like the comedy and tragedy masks often used to symbolize drama would've been better-you know, where one mask is smiling and the other crying.
The reasons to smile about Win98 are now familiar: It's compatible with far more hardware and software than any operating system (even its siblings), is better able to perform basic maintenance on itself and can even self-repair-to a degree.
But that's light years away from saying it's the "best possible" desktop OS. It's not-and that's where the crying starts. So we tapped several sources for the most common Win98 problems and then set out to fix them. Surprisingly, we found that most could be remedied, or at least ameliorated, by following the simple fix-it process we'll describe. Although the full fix-it list has 10 steps, not all problems require all the steps-some can be fixed in just one or two.
For Crying Out Loud
As soon as Win98 came out, bug reports started to surface. To try to discern any patterns in the reports, we set aside a portion of our Web site's Dialog Box chat area (
), where we collected literally thousands of real-life bug reports from users like you.
We sorted those reports and checked a number of bug-related sites and newsgroups. We also visited the sites and bulletin boards for the major hardware vendors, scoured the labyrinthine Microsoft site and called Microsoft for official comments on the worst problems.
The most common Win98 problems fall into one of six general categories: Suspend/resume problems with the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) built into most newer PCs and laptops
Networking problems (especially with NetWare drivers)
Hardware driver problems (especially with video and network cards)
Hardware detection issues (especially with modems and network cards)
Software conflicts (especially with utilities)
A huge "miscellaneous" category of problems that affect specific brands or models of hardware or peripherals, particular releases or builds of software, or specific combinations of hardware and software
Luckily, all but two of the problems can probably be remedied using our 10-step checklist. These two-ACPI and networking issues-are the thorniest Win98 problem areas. They deserve special attention, so we'll come back to them later.
Two final thoughts before we begin: First, this article focuses on problems that Win98 can cause for your system, not the other way around. If your system has broken or misconfigured hardware, or improperly installed software, the problems they cause may masquerade as a Win98 problem. To rule out this kind of problem, check out "Do It Yourself" (Features, October 1998, http://www.winmag.com/library/1998/1001
Second, while none of the steps listed here is especially risky or dangerous, it's always wise to have current, known-good backups of your data before you make any significant alterations to your system. Why take a chance? Make a backup first.
Step 1: Read the READMEs
Start with the basics: Win98 ships with some 300KB of information i
n 13 separate README files that cover a wide range of known problems, workarounds, tips and support options for a range of hardware and software. All the documents are TXT files located in your C:\WINDOWS directory.
To see if your specific problem is covered, start with README.TXT, which is a kind of table of contents for all the other README files. Also check GENERAL.TXT, which contains information too new to have been incorporated elsewhere. It takes only a minute and costs nothing to check out the READMEs-and they just might solve your problem.
Step 2: Get Up to Date (Part I)
Microsoft itself has already released a number of updates and patches to Win98. Around the time you read this, the company should also be releasing a large service pack to remedy many of Win98's internal bugs and problems. To see what's available, run Windows Update (Start/Windows Update).
Step 3: Get Up to Date (Part II) Peripherals: Win98's native driver model is different than Win95's and, while Win98 can run Win95-style drivers, the results are sometimes less than optimal. If Win98-specific drivers are available for your video card, printer, modem, scanner and so on, download and install them following the vendors' recommendations.
Systems: Brand-new systems may need nothing-but it doesn't hurt to check. Systems older than six to 12 months may need new drivers for built-in or bundled peripherals (video, modems, printers and so on), and some older systems may need a new BIOS. (This isn't as dire as it sounds: Most BIOSes can be updated simply by running a special piece of software.) Check your system vendor's site for details.
Software: Most software that runs on Win95 runs fine on Win98, but there are exceptions, especially with low-level utilities (defragmenters, uninstallers and so on). Check your software vendors' Web sites and follow whatever Win98-specific recommendations you find there.
Most major hardware and software vendors have also released Win98-specific updates:
Also, poke around vendor sites for BBS areas, searchable FAQs and other resources for solving Win98-related problems. You may find solutions to your immediate problems, as well as information that will help you avoid future obstacles.
Note: If you haven't yet installed Win98, it's still a great idea to visit the appropriate hardware/software sites for your system beforehand, so you'll learn of any known gotchas or problems. That way, you'll have the fixes or workarounds handy when you do finally install Win98.
Step 4: A Fresh Start for Hardware
If the first three steps haven't solved a hardware problem, try removing and then reinstalling the device: Open Control Panel and click on the System applet. Click on Device Manager and select the category and specific device that's not working properly. Click once on the malfunctioning item, then on the Remove button. If Win98 asks to remove files that are no longer needed, click on Yes and reboot.
Windows 98 should now wake up, redetect the hardware you just removed and automatically run the Add New Hardware Wizard (you can also run it manually within Start/Settings/Control Panel). If you downloaded new drivers in Steps 1 to 3, use the Wizard's Have Disk option to ensure that Win98 installs your new drivers and not the old ones.
Step 5: A Fresh Start for Software
Reinstall: Simply rerun your application's Setup program. Most applications install over themselves without losing any settings, alterations or customizations you've made, so this normally is a very safe approach.
Remove/Reinstall: Use Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs applet, an application's own uninstall utility or a standalone uninstaller to completely remove a malfunctioning application. Reboot, even if it isn't required. Reinstall the software from scratch, and then apply any updates you obtained in Steps 1 to 3.
Similarly, if Steps 1 to 3 haven't solved a software problem, reinstall the app or do a complete remove/reinstall cycle:
Step 6: Strength in Numbers (Part I)
One advantage of using the world's most popular OS is that millions of other users are in exactly the same position you are: Chances are, someone, somewhere, has had the same problem or one very similar to yours-and there's a reasonable chance it's already been reported to Microsoft.
The Microsoft Knowledge Base began as an internal resource for Microsoft support technicians: As they solved support problems, they'd document each one and its appropriate remedy in a database that other tech support personnel could reference. See the sidebar "Free Tech Support (with the Web)."
After a while, Microsoft made the Knowledge Base available to the public. It's free, although you do have to provide some basic registration information to fully exploit its features. Go to http://support.microsoft.com, register and then spend some time learning the advanced features of the Knowledge Base. It's very powerful-and just may be your ticket to solving very specific problems that otherwise may seem intractable.
Step 7: Strength in Numbers (Part II)
You can also tap a huge volume of specific personal experiences with Win98 by visiting any of the 30 or so separate Win98-related Usenet newsgroups. Log on to your ISP, fire up your newsreader, and search for discussion groups with "win98" and "windows98" as part of their names. As a place to start, you'll find one large series of discussions under the heading "microsoft.public.win98.xxx" where xxx stands for various subsystems and components (modems, displays and so on).
Alternatively, search for discussion groups with your specific vendor, system, peripheral or app in their titles.
Step 8: Tap the Web
There are close to 100 non-Microsoft Web sites dealing with Win98. To find sites for specific Win98 problems, try a metasearch at a search engine such as MetaCrawler (http://www.metacrawler.com
) or DogPile (http://www.dogpile.com).
Or you can save some time by short-cutting right to the top two general Win98 sites, as ranked by a number of metasearch engines: WINDOWS Magazine's own http://www.winmag.com/win98/
and CMP Media's http://www.cmpnet.com/win98/.
Step 9: Get Resourceful
All normal retail Win98 CDs contain a copy of the online Resource Kit, the HTML equi
valent of a 1,700-page book that can solve problems and answer a wide range of troubleshooting and tuning questions. Just click on \TOOLS\RESKIT\HELP\RK98BOOK.CHM on your Win98 CD.
Step 10: Go Local
Odds are, there's a helpful group of personal computer users near you which either has already solved a problem like yours or has the know-how to do so. Local PC user groups can be an invaluable way to share information. If you don't know of any local groups, check out the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG) at http://www.apcug.org/.
Solving the Toughest Problems
ACPI Problems: Under Win98, some systems cannot reliably go into Suspend or Standby modes-or, if they do, they cannot quickly or reliably resume normal operation. This can make these low-power modes useless for systems where fast response is essential (for example, PCs left on overnight to accept faxes or laptops used for a quick round of e-mail between flights).
While the 10 steps above will help solve the overwhelming majority of Win98 problems, as we mentioned earlier, two of the most-often-cited problems deserve special attention.
Win98 is ACPI-compliant, according to Shawn Sanford, Microsoft's product manager for desktop operating systems. "But," he cautions, "this is just one piece of the puzzle." Everything else in the system-all the hardware and the system BIOS-must also be ACPI-compliant for all the pieces to work.
ACPI is relatively new; many systems now being upgraded to Win98 were originally designed for the older Advanced Power Management (APM) technology. This means many of these older systems may require, at a minimum, BIOS or other driver updates to work properly with the new technology. See Steps 1 through 4 and 6 through 8 for suggestions.
But even with all the latest patches and updates, Win98's ACPI scheme may not work properly. For example, we have an IBM ThinkPad 560 that originally shipped with Win95 and APM. When Win98 came out, we downloaded a new Win98-specific BIOS update and new Win98-specific power-management drivers from the IBM Web site. But even with all that, the 560 comes out of hibernation modes extremely slowly, if at all.
Because ACPI operations function deep within a system, there's very little you can do-except wait for the hardware vendors and Microsoft to sort out the problems and post bug-fixes and patches. It's frustrating, and may well be Win98's single-worst failing.
Sanford says Microsoft is looking into problems like this on a case-by-case basis; he suggests, as a workaround, turning off all BIOS-level power-management functions, so Win98 can attempt to manage all power functions on its own. It didn't help in my case, but it has helped in others. It's worth a try: The specifics vary from vendor to vendor and model to model (check your owner's manual), but there should be a key you press during boot (there's usually an on-screen message that says "Press F2 for setup" or something similar) or a key combination you can hit in DOS that will bring you to the BIOS setup screens. If the BIOS lets you alter the ACPI, there'll be an option to do so. If not, you won't see any power-management options.
Local Area Not working: The second most-common complaint about Win98 is networking difficulty. This can manifest itself in any number of ways, ranging from a networking application not working properly to total inability to make a network connection. It can also spill over into a slew of Dial-Up Networking (DUN) problems.
These troubles seem most prevalent in upgrade installations where non-Microsoft networking components have been installed. However, some from-scratch installs can suffer too.
A variation on Step 5 will solve many of these problems: Use the Control Panel's Network applet to remove all clients, protocols, adapters and services from any machine with networking trouble. If DUN is also a problem, delete all DUN connections, too. (Of course, you should first make note of all settings so you can properly recreate them.) Now reboot and then reinstall all the necessary clients, protocols and so on in the Network applet; reboot again. Now rebuild the DUN connections.
This process is laborious but not difficult-and it usually ensures that all the necessary network plumbing is installed properly. Follow the rest of the standard 10-step fix-it process to resolve whatever other issues you might face.
What If Nothing Helps?
Sometimes, nothing seems to help; Windows 98 can get so fouled up that no amount of layering-on of patches or adjusting components will make it right. And frankly, sometimes it's just not worth the time and hassle to try to figure out every possible reason why something may not be working right. That's when it's time for a fresh installation of the operating system.
This doesn't have to be a tragedy: Our "Do It Yourself" October feature contains full instructions on three safe and easy ways to reinstall Windows from scratch.
It would be nice if Windows 98 were that mythical, perfect OS that cures all ills and never has any trouble. But alas, that OS has never been invented and probably never will be. Meanwhile, if you're in the unlucky minority of people for whom Windows 98 is causing serious trouble, the steps, tips and links discussed above should go a long way to helping you set things right.
Fred Langa is a senior consulting editor and columnist for WINDOWS Magazine. He also writes a weekly column for CMPnet. You can subscribe to Fred's free weekly e-newsletter by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Fred through his home page at http://www.langa.com or care of the editor at the addresses on page 20.
SIDEBAR: The Ultimate Windows Utility
It's not a bug-fixer by definition, but Win98's Tweak UI will help you eliminate some common OS annoyances.
By far, the best Windows 9x utility available is Tweak UI, made (but not supported) by Microsoft. The free Windows 98 version provides more than 100 easy tweaks to Windows: Use it to automate log-ons, remove shortcut arrows, speed up menus, remove the "unremovable" Desktop icons and much more. In fact, it makes you wonder why Microsoft didn't just build it into Windows 98. After all, the company bundles everything from browsers to TV-tuner software-why not user-interface customization?
To get Tweak UI for Windows 98, just use Find to search the Windows 98 CD for TWEAKUI.INF. Right-click on the TWEAKUI.INF file and select Install from the Context menu that pops up. It's that easy. To use it, simply launch the new Tweak UI applet from Start/Settings/Control Panel.-Mike Elgan
SIDEBAR: Problem-Solving Sites
Tap these Web sites to help fix what ails your Windows 98 installation.
Test your system to make sure it's operating the way it should using WinTune 98: http://www.winmag.com/WinTune98.
Make sure Win98's user interface and browser components are functioning properly with BrowserTune98:
Check out our soup-to-nuts Win98 Essential Upgrade Guide: http://www.winmag.com/library/1998/0701/default.htm.
Keep your Win98 PC in top shape with WinMag's wealth of Do It Yourself hardware and software fixes:
Find out how to Get the Most Out of Win98: http://www.winmag.com/library/1998/0901/default.htm.
Identify and fix common Windows 98 Annoyances: http://www.annoyances.org/win98.
Post your problems and get answers from the Windows Annoyance Board:http://www.primeconsulting.com/cgi-local/annoy.pl-FL
SIDEBAR: Free Tech Support (with the Web)
Microsoft's Advanced Technical Support Online (http://support.microsoft.com) makes getting help for Win98 easy-if you know how to navigate its behemoth site. Here are some pointers for getting the information you need as fast as possible.
For answers to common Win98 questions, head to http://support.microsoft.com/support/windows/faq/98/
, or click on the Frequently Asked Questions link on the left side of the Support page, select Windows 98 in the drop-down menu and then click on Go.
Pay close attention to the filters in the second option given by the main screen; these can greatly increase relevant results by letting you search for specific article ID numbers, drivers and troubleshooting tools, among other options.
The Support page lets you use common query construction: Narrow your searches by using Boolean operators (AND, OR and NEAR) and searching for specific phrases enclosed by quotes.
Use the Win98 troubleshooting tool (http://support.microsoft.com/support/windows/tshoot/
), which guides you through the process of figuring out what's wrong.
Microsoft's PC glossary (http://support.microsoft.com/support/glossary/) is a tech support gem. Go there and add it to your Favorites.
Support Online is just one Win98 tech support option. Use it to discover other options by visiting the Support Options page: http://support.microsoft.com/support/supportnet
For continuing updates on fixes, tell Support Online to send you an e-mail message every time the site changes. On the site's home page, click on the Add Active Channel bar on the left. Click on the "Yes, but only tell me when updates occur" radio button, then click on Customize. Click on the Yes radio button and correct your e-mail address if necessary.
And speaking of e-mail, check out the Support News Watch and Newsgroups links on the Support Online home page for massive quantities of tech info delivered to your inbox.-ME
SIDEBAR: Free Tech Support (Without the Web)
Web-based tech support can be a big help-but what if the trouble you're having is that you can't connect to the Web? Here's how to get free Microsoft tech support via e-mail and fax.
Every one of the thousands of Microsoft Knowledge Base articles is available free via e-mail. For an index and explicit instructions, send an e-mail message to email@example.com
with the word Index in the Subject line and nothing in the body of the message.
To get free information via fax on a specific Knowledge Base article, you first need to know the article ID, which you can get using the tip above, or by calling 800-936-4200. When the recorded message starts, press 3, then 1 to access the Win98 area. Press 1 for the "product catalog," which is the listing of articles, or 2 if you already know the article ID. Follow the prompts to enter your name, fax number and so on. You can order up to five articles per call.
For questions on other Microsoft products, try these numbers for free fax information: desktop applications, 800-936-4100; development tools, 800-936-4300; business systems, 800-936-4400.-ME
SIDEBAR: Top Six Tips for Bug-Free Updates
Windows Update makes Win98 renovations a low-stress affair by scanning your system and providing a single source for fixes, enhancements and drivers. You may not need it now, but when it's time to update a critical component, make sure you keep these tips in mind.
Unlike the normal installation of files, Windows Update doesn't give you options for location, file and folder name, and so on. The best way to keep tabs on what it's doing to your system is to run System File Checker Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools/System Information/Tools) after you've performed an update. Check for changed files, and you'll get a report of which system files were altered.
You can uninstall some Windows Update software from the Web site. Click on Product Updates, then on Show All. You'll see an uninstall button next to each item that can be wiped clean.
Device drivers available for download don't automatically show up in the list like the other downloads. To check for driver updates, click on Product Updates, then on Device Drivers. Note that you can install or uninstall only one driver at a time.
Always download and install the Critical Updates. They often contain bug fixes and security patches. Recommended Updates often include bug fixes as well.
If you hide or delete the Internet Explorer icon from your Desktop, you'll likely get an error message when you try to access Windows Update from the Start menu. The fix is to either restore the icon to your Desktop or open your browser and head over to http://www.windowsupdate.microsoft.com
If you've got IE security settings on High, you won't be able to get to the Products Update Catalog. Change your settings to Medium or Low before going to the Windows Update site (select View/Internet Options, open the Security tab and select the desired setting).
December 1998, Page 168.
Table of Contents for December 1998
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