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How to update your copy of Windows 95
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

How to update your copy of Windows 95
 

Bit Player for April 20, 1997
This is an expanded version of the column that appears in print.

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Microsoft officially introduced its Windows 95 operating system in August 1995. In the 20 months since then, the company has fixed scores of bugs in the software, improved the way Windows dials an Internet service, cleaned up the e-mail program built into Windows and changed many other aspects of the way Windows 95 works.

But Microsoft did not do something you would have expected from the world's biggest software company. It did not incorporate these fixes and updates into the standard version of Windows 95. Only a special version, called OSR 2 (OEM Service Release 2 — OEM standing for "Original Equipment Manufacturer"), has the fixes and improvements. And you can't buy the OSR 2 version of Windows 95 unless you get it already installed on a new PC or get it separately when you buy certain replacement parts for your existing computer.

In other words, although Microsoft spruced up and patched up Windows 95, it continues to sell the original version even today. The changes are available only as patches you install yourself. Unless you've already taken the steps needed to upgrade your version of Windows 95, you probably fit into one of these two categories:

  • If you bought a PC within the last 20 months, chances are you have the unpatched, unfixed version of Windows 95.
  • If you added Windows 95 to an older PC, you definitely have the buggy version.

I'll tell you how to get the upgrades shortly. I want to explain something first.

It would be easy to turn this into a scandal. How could Microsoft make all these changes and not put them into the version of Windows 95 it was selling? Doesn't that seem reprehensible?

In a way, of course it does. Microsoft could have (and should have) put all of the fixes and improvements into every copy of Windows 95. The changes should have gone into every copy that was sent to PC manufacturers—they're the ones who install the software on new PCs—and to every store that sells Windows 95 to individuals who are upgrading from Windows 3.1.

Microsoft's attitude is that it did the next best thing by incorporating these changes, along with many others, into the OSR 2 version of Windows 95. For valid technical reasons having to do with the way the OSR 2 version handles hard drives, Microsoft doesn't want Windows 95 users to install the OSR 2 upgrade onto current computers. This means you can't get the improved version of Windows 95 the easy way—by popping an OSR 2 Windows 95 disk into your CD-ROM drive and clicking on an icon.

You have to do it the hard way, by downloading patches and other files from Microsoft's Internet sites. Fortunately, Microsoft's peevishness in refusing to sell updated versions of the regular Windows 95 software is balanced to some degree by the way it designed the upgrades and patches: They are easy to install and require no special computer knowledge.

Before you start updating, check the version of Windows 95 your PC is running. Right-click on the My Computer icon on the desktop, choose Properties, and look for the word "System." Below it will be "Windows 95" and what Microsoft calls a "build" number. If your PC already has the OSR 2 version, that number will have a "b" in it. (It may read "4.00.950b," for example.)

If you see an "a," at least some of the patches and fixes have been installed already. (Your kids may have done it.) If you don't see an "a" or a "b," you have the stock version. Even if you have the "a" version, you probably should follow the advice here and get all the upgrades and patches anyway. You won't mess up anything by installing the same fix twice.

Start by downloading and installing the first big fix for Windows 95, called Service Pack 1. Do not install the other changes until you've updated your PC with Service Pack 1. You can get Service Pack 1 from http://www.microsoft.com/windows95/info/service-packs.htm.

While you are on that page, download the Support Assistant, which contains a lot of help for Windows 95 users. You won't need any of the other files listed on that page unless you are a system administrator.

Then go to the main Web site for other upgrades and fixes. The Web address is http://www.microsoft.com/windows/common/contentw95uga.htm. If that page is busy, go to http://www.microsoft.com/windows95/info/system-updates.htm, which lists the files you need. A page that tells which of the OSR 2 changes are available as patches for the regular version of Windows 95 is at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/pr/win95osr.htm#Internet.

Download all the files listed on the "updates.htm" page except the one for Apple printers, unless you have an Apple printer. Put each downloaded file into its own temporary folder, then double-click on the file and follow the directions. When you are through, delete all those temporary folders and their contents.

One more point: The print version of this column is often shortened to fit the space allotted. To make sure you're getting the full contents, read the Web version on my own site or on the newspaper's site. (The columns are the same.) My main page is at http://www.dreamscape.com/afasoldt/, and the newspaper's technology page is at http://www.syracuse.com/pluggedin/.


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