Feature Article
Windows 98 
 
Second Edition 


By Vade Forrester; reprinted from the July, 2000 issue of the PC Alamode 

Virtually any computer you buy today will have Windows 98, Second Edition installed as the operating system. Windows 98, Second Edition (usually referred to as Windows 98 SE) is the current version of Microsoftís consumer operating system, and incorporates all the hardware support and usability features that Microsoft has worked on to date. The Second Edition version represents an update to the original version of Windows 98, and includes numerous bug fixes, along with a few new features. However, most, if not all, of the bug fixes are available for free on the Microsoft Windows Update site. The bottom line is: if you donít need the new features that Windows 98, Second Edition offers, stick with the original Windows 98. That version offered substantial new features that made upgrading from Windows 95 worth considering. 

Windows 98 System Requirements 
For Windows 98, Microsoft specifies a minimum system of a 66 MHz 486 computer with 24 MB of RAM, at least 210 MB hard drive space (possibly up to 400 MB), a CD-ROM drive, a VGA video system, a mouse and keyboard. You would not be happy using this configuration; my own recommendations for a minimum system would be a 100 MHz Pentium with 32 MB of RAM, a 4 GB hard drive, CD-ROM, mouse, keyboard, and a video system that provides 800x600 pixel resolution. Even that system will be rather slow. Today, however, itís hard to find a computer with less than a 500 MHz CPU, and most have 64 MB of RAM, a hard drive at least 8 GB in size, a modem, a mouse, CD-ROM or DVD-ROM, and a sound system. Windows 98 flies on such a system. 

Installation 
The easiest of all versions of Windows to install, Windows 98 SE supplies most of the information it needs to install itself. And if, for some reason, Windows 98 SE is not to your or your computerís liking, an uninstall feature restores the previous operating system. When you are satisfied that Windows 98 SE is working ok and decide to keep it, the uninstall files can be removed to free up about 85 MB of disk space. As with earlier versions of Windows, Windows 98 SE encourages you to make a Startup Disk during installation, which you should definitely do. I would also encourage you to copy the SYSTEM.INI file to the Startup Disk, since it contains all the hardware information your computer must have to start up, and on my computer, occasionally erases itself. The Startup Disk is essential if you ever have to reinstall Windows (like when your hard drive crashes). 

Hardware Support 
No operating system currently available has better support for hardware than Windows 98 SE. Because itís so popular, all hardware manufacturers take special pains to write Windows 98 SE drivers. The Second Edition added support for a whopping 1200 new hardware devices, and expanded its support of the Universal Serial Bus (USB). It also added support for the super-fast IEEE 1394 connection, also know as FireWire, which is used to connect digital video cameras, and is the official connector for high definition television. Itís nice to see that external FireWire devices, including hard drives and tape backups are starting to appear. FireWire is where USB was two years ago. 

SE also adds native support for DVD drives. Previously, DVD drive makers had to write proprietary drivers to make their DVD drives work with Windows 98. Windows 98 also supports the FAT32 file system, which lets you set up partitions on your hard drive larger than 2 GB. Since you canít even buy a drive that small today, that feature is really useful. FAT32 provides more efficient storage than Windows 95 and previous versions of Windows, which gives you up to 40% more usable disk space. Actually, later versions of Windows 95 introduced FAT32, but Windows 98 provides a conversion utility that lets you convert older FAT16 files to FAT32. 

SE also supports the newest technology, including AGP graphics, MMX extensions, and DirectX. 

Internet Support 
Microsoft made a special effort to make the Internet an integral part of Windows 98. Windows 98 SE adds Internet Connection Sharing to make it easier to share a single Internet service among several networked computers. Thatís especially useful for high-speed Internet services, like DSL or cable modem, which can accommodate several users without bogging down. 

An absolutely invaluable feature of Windows 98 is the Windows Update web site. Microsoft uses this site to make available all the bug fixes, security updates, and new features that are developed for Windows 98. And all these updates to the operating system are free. One update feature automatically sends you a notice that there is a Critical Update to Windows 98, and offers to connect you to the web so you can download it. Critical Updates are those that fix serious bugs and security weaknesses, and itís a very good idea to install them. You can select the updates from a list, and download the files to your computer, where Windows 98 is automatically updated. Itís about as easy as you could imagine. A recent example of a Critical Update was a patch to Outlook Express to eliminate the weakness that allowed the LoveBug virus to operate. 

In addition to Critical Updates, there are Recommended Updates and Optional Updates. You may not want these features, which have recently included a beta copy of Internet Explorer 5.5. A hardware device driver update section is also included, but does not appear to be used. I have never found anything at all there; visit your hardware companyís site for real driver updates. 

Software Support 
Virtually every piece of software for the PC runs on Windows 98. Many run only on Windows 98. That means you can find Windows 98 programs that do almost anything you want to do. 

Interface 
Windows 98ís interface is very similar to Windows 95, but it has been polished to make it easier to perform routine chores. For example, you can now supplement the Taskbar with several toolbars. A Quick Launch Toolbar lets you place icons and shortcuts there, rather than the Desktop, so they are not covered by open windows. And you can now drag icons around the Start menu, and on/off the Start menu to the Desktop or the Quick Launch Toolbar. If the Quick Launch Toolbar takes up all the space on the bottom of the screen so you canít see the Taskbar, click on the top of the Taskbar and drag it up and youíll have a two-level Taskbar, with one level being the Quick Launch Toolbar and the other the actual Taskbar. 

Maintenance Tools 
For me, the best part of Windows 98 is the highly functional maintenance tools (programs) that let you maintain the health of your computer. You can either run these programs when you need them, or use the Maintenance Wizard to schedule them to run when you arenít using the computer, like at night. Of course, your computer must be on, or at least in standby, to use such a schedule. Fifteen troubleshooting Wizards built into the Help section (just search for help on troubleshooters) help you analyze problems that you may experience. Maintenance tools are accessed mostly from the System Tools folder (Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools-thatís worth making a shortcut for your desktop or the Quick Launch toolbar). 

The most useful maintenance programs are ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter. The former scans all the files on your drive to find and fix problems, and if you ask it to, scans the entire surface of the drive to see if it finds any problems. Disk Defragmenter finds pieces of files that have been scattered around the drive as you return to a document and add to or edit it. Disk Defragmenter has a new feature under Windows 98: it now places the program files you use most near the inside of the drive where they will load faster, reducing your bootup time. 

Other maintenance features are accessible from the System Information icon. The basic System Information window provides a treasure trove of valuable information about your computer, which puts most third-party utility programs to shame. But hidden undeer the Tools selection in the menu bar are ten more tools. All are useful, but in the interest of space, Iíll comment on only two. System File Checker scans the system (Windows) files and identifies those which appear to be incorrect, or corrupted. This can happen if some new program decides to overwrite one of the system files with its own version. If System File Checker finds a file that looks like itís corrupt, it offers to reinstall the file from the CD. 

A common problem with Windows 98 is that a program you install may insist on installing its own versions of DLL (Dynamic Link Libraries) files, overwriting newer, updated ones. This phenomenon, called DLL Hell, can cause erratic behavior of your computer. Windows 98 backs up the newer versions and lets you use Version Conflict Manager to identify which DLL files have newer versions and offers to install those versions from the backed up set. My computer has several such DLLs, but my philosophy is "Donít fix it if itís working." 

Windows 98 SE versus Windows 2000 
Windows 2000 was first announced as a replacement for Windows 98, but then Microsoft changed its mind and decided it was a replacement for Windows NT 4.0. I think Microsoft felt the compatibility of Windows 2000 with the multitude of hardware and software offerings on the market was too poor, and would cause much dissatisfaction. However, Windows 2000 does let you upgrade from Windows 98 as part of its Setup program, and has a very Windows 98-like interface. It even reads FAT32 files, which NT 4.0 wonít do. Windows 2000 offers traditional Windows NT strengths: stability, security, and memory management. If your Windows 98 crashes often, Windows 2000ís almost crash-proof nature may be just what you need. Check Windows 2000ís hardware and software compatibility lists to see if your hardware and software are listed, and then convert your operating system to Windows 2000. There is even a reduced upgrade price for those switching from Windows 98. 

Windows Millennium Edition (Win Me) 
Scheduled for release in the near future, probably in the fall of 2000, WinME will be an update to Windows 98, and the last of the Windows 9X systems Microsoft will issue (but they said the same thing about Windows 98). See the article on Win Me

Bottom Line 
Windows 98 usually costs around $89 for the upgrade version or $189 for the full version that doesnít require a previous version of Windows to install. Should you upgrade? Maybe. If you have Windows 95, the extra features of Windows 98 may be very attractive. Whether they are worth the upgrade price depends on how well Windows 95 is working for you. If you have an older version of Windows, chances are you have an older computer which may be too slow with Windows 98. If you have the original version of Windows 98, there is little reason to upgrade to Windows 98 SE, unless you need one of the few additional features it offers. But be sure to visit the Windows Update site and download all the Critical Updates. 


Vade Forrester has been a member of Alamo PC since 1988. He served on the Board of Directors from 1990-1993 as Vice President of Information and Public Relations, First Vice President and President. He has since continued to serve Alamo PC as a frequent contritutor to PC Alamode, as SIG instructor for Windows and Microsoft Word. He enjoys arranging special presentations to the club, such as the Year 2000 presentation given in September 1999 and presentations on topics like Backing Up Your Hard Drive. A civil servant employed by the Air Force, Vade has been a computer user since 1982.