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Win95 SR2-for Free!
SR2 is not wart-free, but it's functionally and cosmetically better than standard Win95.
"SR2" is oem service release 2 of Windows 95-the new version of Windows that's shipping with most new hardware. SR2 fixes numerous buglets and problems with the original Win95 and adds support for some new hardware that's become available since Win95 first shipped in August 1995. Many of these new components will also be part of Memphis, the new major upgrade to Windows due early next year. (See Cover Story, this issue.)
For the most part, SR2 is a better version of Windows. It's not wart-free, but on the whole, it's a great upgrade.
Until recently, the only way to get a copy of SR2 was to buy a new system. And for some parts of SR2, that restriction makes perfect sense. For instance, SR2 provides software hooks developers can use to exploit the Intel Pentium Multimedia Extensions (MMX). If you bought a machine with an MMX chip, chances are it came with a copy of SR2.
Other features fall into a gray area. One example: SR2 includes FAT32 enhancements to the Win95 File Allocation Table so it can support hard disks up to 2 terabytes. FAT32 could be useful for anyone with a large hard drive, not just people with brand new systems (see this month's feature, "FAT32: The Big Deal About Big Disks")
The trouble is, FAT32 requires an FDISK and Format before it can work. Microsoft apparently was hesitant to release to the general computing public a product whose first installation step is to wipe out a hard drive's contents. You can imagine the potential tech support nightmare. ("What! You mean all my data's gone? I'll sue! Backups? What's a backup?...") By shipping FAT32 only on freshly factory-formatted hard drives, Microsoft and the system vendors avoid that whole can of worms. But it means you can't get FAT32 for an older system, even if you could use it properly.
Although FAT32 and similar SR2 components come only with new hardware, Microsoft (to its credit) has made many of the less risky and less hardware-dependent pieces of SR2 available for free download. Here's where you can find the best of these pieces:
System software: SR2 system updates include improved OLE and Password List components, an enhanced "Windows Messaging" (a.k.a. Exchange) client with improved performance and fixes to Microsoft Fax. You can download these pieces from http://www.microsoft.com/windows95/info/system-updates.htm.
Internet components: SR2 ships with new copies of Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.x; an Internet Connection Wizard (helps you find a local ISP); new versions of Microsoft Internet Mail and News applets; NetMeeting (lets you work collaboratively and even make a kind of conference call over the Internet); the Personal Web Server (lets you provide true HTTP services from your PC to publish or host HTML pages on the Internet or intranet); and an upgrade to ActiveMovie, which now supports AVI, QuickTime and MPEG I video. All these are available at http://www.microsoft.com/ie/download.
You'll also find new DirectX 2.0 drivers (for higher-performance 2D and 3D graphics, sound, input and communications) at the same address as the Internet downloads.
Networking and communications
Dial-Up Networking gets a facelift and more (including built-in support for scripting and automated dialing). This is available as part of the ISDN Accelerator Pack 1.1 and works even if you don't have ISDN. Check out http://www.microsoft.com/windowssupport/default-sl.htm. If you have a VoiceView or AT+V modem, you'll also have access to Voice Modem Support software to allow your modem to handle switched voice and data transmissions or answer voice calls.
If you need full client support for Novell NetWare 4.x, including NetWare Directory Services, check out http://www.microsoft.com/windows/software/msnds.htm.
If you use Systems Network Architecture, you can download 32-bit Data Link Control protocol at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/software/dlc.htm.
Lots of newer laptops come with built-in infrared links. You'll find new SR2 Infrared Data Association (IrDA) 2.0 software at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/software/irda.htm.
If you have a digital camera, scanner or similar device, check out Wang Imaging (which provides TWAIN support and lets you view images in JPG, XIF, TIFF, BMP and FAX formats) at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/software/img_us.htm.
You can't always get what you want ...
None of the core hardware-dependent elements of SR2 are available for download, nor will they likely become available. This is the stuff that comes only with new PCs:
FAT32 (and the related updates to FDISK, Format, ScanDisk and Defrag); DriveSpace Enhancements (supports larger compressed volumes); Power Management Improvements (Advanced Power Management 1.2, with a variety of hardware-specific enhancements); Storage Enhancements (support for IDE Bus Mastering controllers, floptical disk drives, removable IDE media, Iomega Zip drives and CD Changers, plus a disk-failure prediction API); PCMCIA Enhancements (for the newest generation of specialty and multifunction PCMCIA cards); CDFS Enhancements (support for new CD formats, including Compact Disk-Interactive, or CD-I); PCI Bridging/Docking (PCI docking stations); IRQ Routing (PCI interrupt router support); NDIS 4.0 (NDIS 4.0 network interface card drivers); and Intel MMX Support.
... So get what you need
The portions of SR2 you can download are well worth the time and trouble to grab. Next time you have a lunch hour to spare, do yourself a favor and pull down the components that will do you the most good. When you're done, you'll have the newest and best version of Windows you can own, short of buying a new PC.
Fred Langa is vice president and editorial director of CMP's Personal Computing Group. Contact Fred via his home page at http://www.winmag.com/flanga/hotspots.htm, in the WINDOWS Magazine areas on America Online and CompuServe, or at the e-mail addresses here.