[ Go to February 1997 Table of Contents ]

Cover Story
Do-It- Yourself Windows 97
Windows 97 is out there in bits and pieces. The only tools you'll need to put it all together are a modem and an Internet connection.

-- by Richard Castagna

It's 1997, but you're still using Windows 95. You'd think Microsoft would have thrown gala Ferris-wheel-and-canvas-tent launches of Windows 96 and Windows 97 by now. But rather than two upgrades, the company has actually released dozens of updates-patches, drivers, bug-fixes, applets and add-ons-on the Web.

Call it slipstreaming, stealth upgrades, dribbleware or just a royal pain in the apps (see Fred Langa's Start column, December 1996)-the new way of acquiring operating systems requires a lot of diligence and downloading on your part. But we can offer some guidelines to simplify the process. All you need to build a new OS are a modem and a link to the Web.

"What's in it for me?" you ask. By downloading, the home user can forget about the box, the books, the messy shrink wrap and the time-consuming trip to the retailer. The network administrator in charge of several thousand seats can find out immediately about fixes, patches or any other important changes. With these instant upgrades, you'll no longer worry about too many workstations running different versions of the software.

That's the idea behind Microsoft's Zero Administration Initiative (http://microsoft.saltmine.com/windows/strategy/tco2.htm). Outlined in a white paper published last fall, the initiative describes a scenario where corporate IS administrators can better manage enterprises built around Windows-based environments. One of the key points of the strategy involves automating operating-system updates. At boot-up, each networked workstation's OS will update itself automatically, seeking the latest code and drivers from a server, intranet or the Internet. It's been widely speculated that an update-by-subscription system will be part of the initiative. The subscription would require an annual fee that would entitle you to updates.

For some upgrades to the OS, you're just going to have to wait for the next revision of Windows, code-named Memphis, which isn't scheduled to ship before mid-1997. The only way to get these upgrades (outlined in the sidebar "Upgrade Win95-Buy a New System") now is to buy a new system. Microsoft is making this release, called The Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2 (OSR 2) available only to system vendors, but it will be incorporated into Memphis. Microsoft's Web site promises the beta will be available this quarter. The final version will ship in a box, with a book and all the other trappings of an honest-to-goodness retail product.

So what's a company or individual to do in the meantime? The best advice is to stay connected. Check Microsoft's Web sites frequently (or check the WinMag site, mentioned below, that monitors Win95 upgrades for you), download and install what you think you need and keep track of everything you do-and don't do. If you don't keep copious records of every upgrade you apply or eschew, you risk losing sight of the state of your OS.

To keep abreast of what components are currently available and what they do, point your browser to the WINDOWS Magazine Win95 Update Center (http://www.winmag.com/win95/update95.htm) or Microsoft's upgrade site (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/software.htm)

At the Microsoft site the upgrades are classified as System Tools and Updates, Companion Software, Installation Tools and Power User Extras.

System Tools and Updates

This group of upgrade components primarily addresses system-level issues with patches, fixes and hardware-related enhancements.

Windows 95 Service Pack 1 Update. Probably the most publicized Win95 upgrade, it should appear on your short list of downloads. But if you're using a new PC with the OSR 2 upgrade, Microsoft warns you not to install this Service Pack. To see if you're running OSR 2, go to Control Panel/System and check the version number. If it's 4.00.950 B, you have OSR 2 and shouldn't install the Service Pack. If the version is 4.00.950a, the Service Pack has already been installed.

Service Pack 1 includes an OLE32 update that fixes the file-management problems of three Microsoft Win95 apps: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Because of an OLE problem, files you created with these apps may contain information you deleted, and other users can view this information using Notepad. The update remedies this potential security problem for these applications and others.

A shell update (SHELL32.DLL) in the Service Pack lets you browse NetWare Directory Service printers when you use Win95's Add Printer Wizard (if Service for NetWare Directory Services is already installed). The update also fixes an obscure network-related file-copying problem. Another update solves the problem of some 32-bit apps failing when you use certain Win3.x printer drivers (such as PSCRIPT.DRV and UNIDRV.DLL)

The Service Pack also addresses a security issue related to File and Printer Sharing for NetWare Networks. With Remote Administration enabled,

a user could gain access to another network user's computer. The Service Pack plugs this leak. Security is also strengthened by the pack's Password List Update, which improves Win95's password encryption algorithm.

A printer-port update (LPT.VXD) handles the printing time-out errors that occurred with some printers connected to Enhanced Communications Ports (including HP LaserJet Series 4 and 5, and Lexmark laser printers). This update is also on the Win95 CD-ROM.

Microsoft Plus' System Agent has a bug that could affect the accuracy of other programs' floating-point operations. The Service Pack's SAGE.DLL eliminates the conflict that arises when you use System Agent. Other more esoteric fixes address security problems associated with connections to some UNIX networks.

Drivers. If you have a piece of hardware that doesn't work as expected with Win95, check here for updated drivers. Dozens of new drivers are available for all types of expansion cards and peripherals. Among them are updated audio drivers for AST, Creative Labs and DigiSpeech cards and display drivers for ATI, Diamond, Matrox and Number 9 cards. An infrared driver (IrDA), and various network, modem, printer and storage device drivers are available as well.

CD-ROM Extras. This download of CD-ROM goodies includes a slew of enhancements and utilities previously available only on the Win95 CD-ROM. If you don't have Win95 on CD, this is another must-have download. It contains accessories such as Character Map, mouse pointers, the NetWatcher network monitor, QuickView file viewer, a system monitor, an online user's guide and a Win95 tour.

This download's Administrative tools are a treasure trove of useful, if not indispensable, utilities and add-ons. It includes SLIP support for Windows 95 Dial-Up Networking and scripting to create dial-up scripts for PPP or SLIP connections. You'll also find tools for using DOS environment variables, a Long Filename Backup Utility, a Password List Editor and a System Policy Editor.

The CD-ROM kit's network features include a utility-the Print Agent for NetWare Networks-that lets you direct a print job from a NetWare server to a Win95 Client for NetWare Networks workstation. With the Remote Procedure Call Print Provider, a Win95 client can access some NT Server administrative information. Network administrators will like the Remote Registry Service for altering the Registries of networked PCs, and the Network Monitor Agent for troubleshooting network problems. And if your network uses SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), the SNMP Agent will help you manage remote connections.

You can add a CD player to play music CDs and download a number of different sound "schemes," graphics and videos. On the more serious side, the CD-ROM downloads include multilingual support and various other utilities.

New Technology. Consider this the second-most important download area to explore (after the Service Pack). As Fred Langa notes in his December 1996 Start column, you'll find some key fixes and updates here, including another OLE32 upgrade that catches some things the Service Pack missed. The Kernel32 update takes care of memory leaks that can occur when you use the Winsock API.

You can also download an improved backup application, an updated Microsoft Exchange client and a module that adds POP3 client mail services to Exchange. And if you've been using Microsoft Fax and miss having cover pages, download the MS Fax Cover Page Fix. Another download is a new driver that solves an obscure but potentially dangerous problem with large EIDE drives on systems that support LBA and extended INT13 functions.

International Resources. The System Tools and Updates area also offers generous help and support for non-English versions of Win95.

Companion Software

In this download area, Microsoft provides several full applications and a Dial-Up Networking enhancement to accommodate ISDN connections.

Internet Explorer. Microsoft's popular browser is still free, and available here in versions for Windows 3.x, 95 and NT, and even Macintosh.

ISDN Accelerator Pack 1.1. If you have an internal ISDN adapter, you need this software. This pack supports multilink, which lets you bond two ISDN B channels for 128Kbps capability. To use the Accelerator Pack, you need an ISDN 1.1 driver, which you should get from your terminal adapter's manufacturer. You can also check Microsoft's Hardware Quality Labs page (http://www.microsoft.com/hwtest/)

WANG Imaging Software. This software works with Microsoft's fax app to provide improved viewing and editing. Also use it with TWAIN-compliant scanners to convert paper documents into electronic images for online document management. The imaging software handles various file types, including importing Microsoft FAX, BMP, DCX, JPG, PCX and TIF, and writing to TIF 6.0 and FAX formats.

Installation Tools

Microsoft supplies a number of installation aids, ranging from additional documentation to utilities that expedite Win95 installs. If you're responsible for a number of company machines, you'll want to download these tools. But even if you have only one PC, you should find them helpful.

Resource Kit Tools. Included here are the Windows 95 Resource Kit Help File-which you can also download separately-and an abundance of utilities, help files and troubleshooting aids to facilitate your transition to Win95. The kit has batch routines and scripts for setting up Win95 on a number of PCs, help for network-based installations and Microsoft Project files that aid in planning a Win95 migration.

Even if you've already converted your site to Win95, you'll find plenty of worthwhile tools in this download. CFGBACK.EXE backs up the Win95 Registry; the Log Viewer (LOGVIEW.EXE) makes it easy to look into Win95 log files; and a help file called Adapter Card Setup Help provides guidance for configuring peripheral adapter cards. QUICKRES.EXE lets you change your screen resolution without having to restart Windows.

Support Tools. This download's Windows 95 System Check application will check your hardware configuration to ensure it will support Win95. The Support Assistant offers networking information pulled from the Resource Kit, along with tips and tricks, setup suggestions, troubleshooting assistance, a glossary of terms and so forth. You'll also find lists of Win95-compatible hardware and software.

Power User Extras

The two downloads here-Power Toys and Kernel Toys-are contributions from two of Microsoft's Win95 development teams. Both are chock full of handy utilities that make Windows easier, faster and a lot more fun (see the sidebar "Utilitarian Toys"). But neither is an "official" part of Windows, so Microsoft doesn't support them.

If the idea of building a do-it-yourself OS is as appealing as assembling a 5-by-5-foot puzzle on Christmas morning, take heart. The next generation of Windows will incorporate many of these enhancements, and will feature a new browser-based interface (see the sidebar "Win95's Nashville Tune-Up"). Microsoft will beef up hardware support with built-in Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Digital Video Disc (DVD) compatibility, as well as extended multimedia support.

Build your own Windows or wait for the official upgrade. If you choose to wait, you may still want to get a sneak preview of Windows 97 by test-driving some of the freebies available online.

Windows Magazine, February 1997, page 194.

[ Go to February 1997 Table of Contents ]