Windows Version Upgrade Horrors

An endless array of new hardware (motherboard chip sets, PC card interfaces, video display systems, sound cards, printers, etc) that Windows doesn't know about keeps appearing. Initially, the manufacturer has to provide proprietary extensions or drivers to Windows to make the stuff work. Then the next release of Windows catches up to provide native (Microsoft-developed) support of the devices. Then still more new stuff comes out that Windows doesn't know about. We are about to do this again as Win98SE (Second Edition) debuts. In my opinion, the optimum scenario is to always have hardware that is about 18-24 months old, ensuring that the current version of Windows will fully "know about it" and support it, i.e. The original Win98 only "knows about" hardware that existed before about November-December 1997. The original Win95 doesn't know about, and can't fully support, hardware released after about Jan 1995 such as MMX CPUs, larger than 2GB hard disks, 56K modems, PCI-card sound systems. etc. Win98 SE doesn't know about any hardware after about Jan1999.

In my experience, attempted install-over upgrades are the number one source of problems with Win9X. The core (base installation) of Win 9x before you install even one application is almost one thousand (!) files that are a mixture of Microsoft provided and third-party components. During an upgrade install, Windows SETUP attempts to determine whether it should keep or replace hundreds of these files. It is almost impossible for SETUP to make the right decision for every single one, especially the non-Microsoft third party ones. The vast majority of added-on and third party hardware is based on standard chip sets from a relatively small number of vendors. For example, the relevent issue in providing a driver for a Diamond Multimedia video card is not that it is made by Diamond but whether that particular card is based on a chip set from S3 or Tseng, or ATI. For modems, the issue is whether it is based on a Rockwell or TI chipset, etc. In turn, many vendors wind up obscuring the fact that their devices are made from standard well-known chips by surrounding them with (frequently poorly written) home made device driver software that confuses the Windows upgrade routine. When you do a cold from-scratch install, SETUP pokes, prods, reads, writes, stimulates and looks for characteristic responses in every nook, cranny and corner of your hardware and ALMOST ALWAYS correctly deduces what hardware components you really have regardless of who sold them. And without being distracted or mislead by existing drivers. If the hardware is more than 9 months or a year earlier than the version of Windows involved, you almost never need to supply additonal 3rd-party drivers.

I cold-installed Win98 on several ThinkPad 770s that originally came with a heavily-modified version of Win95B; the only IBM-specific driver I needed to provide was for their proprietary "device bay" that acommodates either a floppy, a CD-ROM, a second hard disk or a 2nd battery.

My usual strategy is to ensure I have the proprietary add-on device driver disks for a given machine on hand, then take a deep breath and completely wipe out the \WINDOWS directory on the hard disk after making a back-up copy of it somewhere else. This will force the next install to be a from-scratch cold install with no pre-existing drivers, .INI files. registry entries, etc to confuse the issue. If SETUP is unable to detect some of the hardware (shows up as yellow question marks in the Control Panel device manager), I then will use the vendor-supplied drivers to enable them.

This will, of course, force you to re-install all applications. Unfortunately, due the unmanageble complexity of Windows, it's dependency on components from far too many sources meshing correctly and the lack of a consistant tracking system for the version levels of the hundreds and hundreds of files involved, there is no real alternative. [ For example, in Win98, Microsoft started re-numbering at ver 1.0 some like-named files that had evolved to higher numbers in Win95, Win95B and Win95C. Indeed the subletter releases of Win95 themselves are a result of the fact that Microsoft loses control of the versions of the myriad patchs, bug fixes and updates issued, and finally has to release an entire new distribution of Windows. By the way, W98 is really Win95D and Win98SE is really Win95E .... ]

The driver setup disks that come with the machine are ALMOST ALWAYS two or three releases out of date; always check the mfrs web site for the current versions. I NEVER use the CDROM that comes with a new printer for example. I always download the latest version from Epson's, Canon's or HP's web site. [ On new models, HP has been known to change the driver as frequently as every 3 weeks for the first six months or so. ]

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