by Carter B. Horsley
If your IBM-clone computer is a more than a
couple of years old, you are one of scores of millions who have
been faced with the decision of upgrading your operating system
to Windows 95.
That decision will be complicated by the fact
that your system hardware will most likely need upgrading. The
changeover is not painless.
The computer press has documented many of the
problems that have arisen, but not all, and has generally given
the impression that most of the problems are surmountable, minor
and relatively inconsequential.
Most veteran PC users realize that they should
probably buy a new computer every three or four years, but not
everyone can afford that expense. Buying a new computer with Windows
95 already installed obviously eliminates the upgrade hassle.
(Windows 97, of course, is expected to arrive in mid-1997 and
for the past few months purchasers of new PC's have been supplied
with a major upgrade to Windows 95 that includes FAT-32, support
for file allocation tables for hard drives that greatly reduces
wasted space because of smaller cluster sizes.)
I recently installed the upgrade version of
Windows 95 on two different computers. On my system, the process
took 52 days and cost about $2,400. On a friend's newer system,
it took an hour and a half and cost about $100.
My experience was obviously agonizing, frustrating,
infuriating and expensive. Was it worth it? Well, I'll get to
that after I explain some of the major catastrophies that happened
with my system that may reveal some important danger signals for
other users. This discussion will involve some technical issues,
but they are basic and users should be familiar with them.
My system was an Insight 486DX50 with 16 megs
of RAM and a 520 megabyte Seagate hard drive. This was a state-of-the-art
IBM-clone when purchased in 1991 and worked fine with Windows
for Workgroups 3.11. The 486DX50 was the fastest chip available
prior to the introduction of the Pentium. My system, however,
predated the introduction of the PCI bus that enabled newer systems
to have faster communications with the central processing chip.
It also predated the widespread introduction of the Enhanced IDE
(EIDE) ISA standard that permitted hard and floppy disk controllers
to work faster and with more and larger hard drives. The PCI bus
issue was not involved in any of my problems, but the absence
of an EIDE system was.
Windows 95 is a much larger operating system
than its predecessors and the software that takes advantage of
its expanded capabilities is much larger, in terms of memory usage,
as well. Prior to the introduction of the EIDE standard and equipment
designed to comply with it, most PC computers could not handle
hard drives larger than 528 megabytes, a size once thought to
be enormous. As software became laden with more features and more
user-friendliness, it also grew in size, demanding more storage
space on a hard drive to store its program code and data. When
the IBM personal computer was introduced in 1981, for example,
one of the best word processing programs then, XYWrite, could
fit on a 360k floppy disk. In comparison, Amipro 3.1 had grown
to almost 15 megabytes and its Windows 95 version, known as Word
Pro 96 is up in the 40 megabyte range, but despite some wonderful
features, it performed badly on my system and I removed it and
replaced it with Microsoft Word 7.0.
While there is no such thing as an average
user, it has become apparent that most users will find 500 megabytes
inadequate for an upgrade to Windows 95. Not only have programs
become bloated in size to be more user friendly, but also multimedia
razzle-dazzle gobbles up much more drive territory and once you've
seen it you don't want to settle for less.
The EIDE standard quickly led to the introduction
of much bigger hard drives, currently available widely and cheaply
for under $400 for 1.6 gigabytes. Indeed, the latest generation
drives start at 3.2 and go up to 4.3 gigabytes, reflecting the
ever-increasing demand for more memory. Upgrading an older system
to EIDE can be accomplished either in hardware or software. There
are two hardware solutions. One method involves upgrading the
system's BIOS (Basic Instruction Operating System) chip, which
can involve replacing the chip physically with a newer one, or
upgrading its memory if the chip is capable of such an upgrade,
and most are not The other method involves installing a new EIDE
floppy and hard disk controller card in one of the system's expansion
slots, replacing the older IDE controller card. The software solution,
provided as an alternative by the manufacturers of the new, larger
hard drives, interposes an intermediate overlay between the systems
BIOS and the operating system, such as DOS. Each method involves
some important other considerations that need not be discussed
It is clear at this stage in software development
that anything less than about a gigabyte of hard drive capacity
is pretty much inadequate just as it is clear that despite a slow
rate of switch over to Windows 95 by corporate users, Windows
95/97, or the even larger Windows NT 4.0, will be dominant and
that upgrades are inevitable.
To accommodate Windows 95, therefore, I bought
a 1.6-gigabyte Western Digital hard drive that had been highly
praised in various press reports. I also wanted to buy a new,
widely promoted SIIG EIDE controller card, but it was not available
at 9 computer stores in Manhattan that I dashed to. I bought two
other, less fully equipped EIDE controller cards and ordered the
SIIG card through the mail. The two non SIIG cards did not meet
my needs because they lacked needed ports. The SIIG card finally
arrived, but the installation of the Western Digital hard drive
did not go smoothly. Many error messages cropped out and two weeks
of calling Western Digital's technical support as well as Microsoft's
did not help. Among the many experiments suggested and tried were
switching the controller card to other slots as well as pulling
out all other cards for other peripherals. I then noticed that
the SIIG card crackled when handled, not from static electricity
from my body but from a slight crinkling of its plastic card.
Upon examination, there were no discernible cracks on its surface,
but clearly the card was defective. The experimentation with the
other controller cards I had purchased and my original card as
well as the SIIG card resulted in the trashing of my original
card, the trashing of my CD-ROM drive, only a year old, and the
trashing of my ATI Graphics Expression video card.
I had taken the important precaution of making
a full back-up on a Colorado Jumbo tape drive of my existing hard
drive prior to attempting to install the new hard drive to which
I intended to restore all my data and programs from the tape backup.
At one point, I had the new hard drive installed
and accomplished a full restore of my data from the tape drive,
only to discover myriad errors that led to more calls to Western
Digital technical support. Western Digital eventually advised
me to download a utility from its World Wide Web site that would
scan my new drive for errors, since it could not determine what
the problem was. The utility, however, is fully "destructive,"
that is, it destroys all data on the drive. It also takes 12 hours
to run. After running it and attempting to reinstall and restore
several times unsuccessfully, Western Digital suggested I mail
the hard drive back or take it back to the store, Egghead, where
I had purchased it. I took it back to Egghead, which exchanged
it for another brand new Western Digital drive of the same size.
Meanwhile, I had to buy a new video card when
it failed in the middle of a phone call to Microsoft technical
support and I also bought a new Plug n Play multimedia kit from
Creative Labs to replace my NEC CD-ROM drive. Repeated phone calls
to Microsoft technical support on its priority pay system that
was changed from $1.95 a minute to $35 a call and is an expensive
long-distance call from New York to Washington State, resulted
in about 20 rewritings of my autoexec.bat, config.sys, win.ini
and system.ini files.
I eventually got the new hard drive to work
using its Ontrack Disk Manager that interposes an operating system
overlay on the system to permit use of hard drives larger than
528 megabytes. I then reinstalled my data from the tape drive,
but had to also make addition restores from other tapes as some
errors cropped out in individual programs. In addition, I started
to make new full-backups because of significantly altered settings
in crucial files. Rather than simply do full restores, that would
have rewritten incorrect code to some vital programs, I reinstalled
all programs individually and then restored only their data files.
At this point, the installation process was
getting very confused and I made print-outs at each new attempt
of my basic system files. The process was further complicated
as each change tended to create new conflicts and incompatibilities
and every component had to be rechecked and/or reinstalled. Parenthetically,
each changed configuration involved, as readers know, a complete
shutdown of the computer and disconnection of power cables, a
Several times all the newly restored data was
lost as the hard drive become inaccessible, forcing a re-initialization
that obliterated all data.
Eventually, I got the drive working and my
Windows for Workgroups 3.11 operating system and all my programs
and data reinstalled. I made a fresh tape backup and held my breath
as I installed Windows 95.
It installed without a glitch and the Windows
95 logo and then the start screen came on my NEC 5FG monitor.
Great, except where was my cursor?
Another expensive call to Microsoft technical
support taught me how to use the keyboard to navigate the screen,
but unearthed another problem. The system now would not properly
recognize my floppy drive, either wanting to format the program
or data diskette that had been inserted or reporting that the
drive was not accessible.
Operating a computer without a cursor or disk
drive is not recommended.
Further calls to Microsoft only added immensely
to my phone bill and they were at a total loss as to what the
problem was. While implementing some of their instructions that
involved restarting the computer after making more changes and
renaming various important system files, the computer reported
that the disk operating overlay's integrity had been corrupted,
a new and quite disturbing message. The Microsoft technician,
always courteous, had no solution for that development and expressed
his sympathy. I asked if he had any idea what might be causing
the problem since I was dealing with brand new hardware and had
downloaded or bought all the latest software versions of my programs
and had checked for viruses (especially since several Microsoft
technicians kept suggesting it might be a boot sector virus, perhaps
one of the dormant ones). The technician said no.
The integrity error simply meant I had to start
from scratch, again. I began thinking that hardware must be the
problem and the only thing not new was my Wacom ArtPad digitizing
tablet and stylus and I had downloaded its most current driver,
PC222.exe, from the company's Web site twice and thoroughly read
and reread its documentation that refers specifically to Windows
95 and I had reinstalled it, like everything else, many times
during this process. So enamoured of the precision and ease of
the stylus in comparison with a mouse, I had given my Microsoft
mouse away to a friend who was frustrated with her trackball pointer
on her laptop.
I rechecked the Internet and the World Wide
Web as well as computing forums on Prodigy, America On-Line and
CompuServe to see if other users were having similar nightmares.
Nothing of relevance showed up until I stumbled onto CompuServe's
Pen Technology Forum in its computing section where I found a
section on Wacom despite the fact that the general CompuServe
searcher did not show up any mentions of Wacom.
The messages to and from Wacom's technical
support, which is not available by phone, were harrowing. Everyone,
it seemed, was experiencing catastrophes with Wacom's Windows
95 software and of a far worse nature than those encountered by
Arcada Backup for Windows 95, an infamous software disaster despite
heavy advertising promotion proclaiming its great merits.
While Windows 95 did not make its official
retail debut until August 24, 1995, after allegedly having been
beta-tested by about 400,000 users, software companies had had
access to it for months in advance and some of them came out with
upgrades for their software around the same time. Many companies,
however, have still not released Windows 95 compatible software.
In many cases, Windows 95 will run the existing software, which
simply cannot take advantage of all of Windows 95's new features.
Some products, on the other hand, simply will not operate under
Windows 95 because it is such a major revision of the operating
What is surprising and disturbing about the
Wacom situation is that the company is the leader in its field,
has widely advertised its product and is even bundled and/or highly
recommended by the leading graphics software companies. It quickly
followed its first version of Windows 95 software for its tablets
with a second one, PC222.EXE, in the fall of 1995 and it was a
free download from its Web site and worked perfectly under Windows
for Workgroups 3.11.
Incredibly, the replies on the CompuServe forum
from the technical staff were outrageously snide, arrogant and
incompetent. Several of the messages suggested that the user simply
operate in only 256 colors, which is absurd since no one would
buy the product unless they were working with 24-bit color palettes
and 16.7 million colors in the graphics programs. Other Wacom
messages suggested that it wasn't its problem but a video card
problem, also blatantly untrue, absurd and insulting. Many of
the Wacom messages were contradictory, telling people to rewrite
Windows system files that in many cases would render the leading
graphics programs inoperable. Finally, many people who followed
the company's technical advice corrected their immediate specific
problem only to discover that the fix unleashed several more critical
disasters. Instead of posting a notice in that forum and on its
Web site that there were significant bugs in its software and
that it should not be used with Windows 95 until the bugs are
fixed in a new release, the company stonewalled and pretended
there was no problem. Obviously, such a snafu is not great for
a company's reputation or pride, but such deceitful incompetence
will not be rewarded with consumer loyalty! In the rush to look
competitive, the company is self-destructing and in the meantime
creating havoc for all of its consumers.
I then went out and bought a new Microsoft
mouse, slowly went through the reinstallation of everything again
and, presto, Windows 95 worked, with cursor and floppy drive.
A few problems remained in terms of error messages and two programs
not operating perfectly, but there were minor concerns.
The entire experience occupied me for 52 days
and cost me about $2,400 for the new hard drive, ungraded software,
new CD-ROM player and multi-media kit, three controller cards,
new video card and new mouse plus the phone bills to technical
For people, such as one friend, with a much
newer system that had EIDE capability and a fairly large hard
drive, the Windows 95 upgrade can go quite smoothly and quickly
although they will spend a fair bit of money on upgrading their
various software programs to take full advantage of Windows 95
as such upgrades become available.
I have been replacing components on my computers
for 15 years so I was not exactly a novice on this installation
and do not know still why I experienced so many important component
failures. There were not all attributable to the Wacom tablet.
What morals, if any, can be learned from my
Firstly, always have a fairly recent full back-up
of one's hard drive, and preferably two, available.
Secondly, read all the computer press, or at
least as much as possible, to keep alert to possible conflicts
Thirdly, don't rely solely on the computer
press and search out information on specific products and problems
on the Internet and on-line services before launching a major
new addition or change to your computer system.
Fourthly, check for viruses regularly and with
Fifthly, always send in your registration cards
and obtain newest revisions for all your software.
Sixthly, have a well-light and spacious area
to keep your computer and all manuals and reference books.
Seventhly, don't panic and be patient, slow
and methodical in coping with the problem, understanding that
because there is so much that can go wrong it is necessary to
embark on processes of elimination and then trial-and-error to
root out the problems.
Eighthly, understand that your computer will
eat your money up, but can be a marvelous tool. By being forced
to buy new components, I not surprisingly got newer ones than
what I was replacing and they were better.
I have only highlighted the major problems
of my crisis in computer hell and not lingered on the other hells
of voice mail and trying to get through to technical support.
Those tirades will be addressed another time.
As to Windows 95, it was bound to look awfully
good when it finally appeared on my screen just because of my
trauma. It is better than I thought it would be, but certainly
I have used Windows 95 for about a year and
was happy until about a month ago when things started to go flooey
with regular and unpredictable crashes and non-recognition of
the floppy drive, sometimes, or even the CD. Worst of all, even
Norton Utilities Speed Disk crashed a couple of times, a not encouraging
sign. I think I somehow corrupted my Windows 95 Registry and despite
attempts to copy by system and user data files from Norton Utilities
"rescue disks" the problem was not completely resolved.
The registry is much more hidden and far more complex than the
old autoexec.bat and config.sys and win.ini files.
I am traumatic about my beloved computer. I
know its end is approaching and certainly the motivation for buying
a new 200 mghz Pentium with MMX technology, a128-megs of RAM,
a 4.3-gig hard drive, a 16x CD, a 56k fax/modem, a DVD player,
Universal Serial Port, Advanced Graphics Port, FAT-32 capabilities,
a new Wacom tablet, and the like is strong. I've only used my
computer for about 6 hours a day everyday for the past 6 years.
Did I get my money's worth. Sure. Just got to start saving, again