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Windows 98 can heal itself
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Windows 98 can heal itself 

Technofile for March 22, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Want to know something exciting about Windows 98?

It heals itself.

Big deal, you say? Not if you've struggled with the way Windows 95 stutters and gasps when things start to go wrong. Windows 98, the first major revision of the everyday version of Windows in three years, knows how to apply its own first aid. And it comes with the software needed to do emergency-room PC surgery, too.

In the beta version—the semi-public test software—of Windows 98 that I installed, some of the self-healing features were hard to find and were not automatically installed. The regular version of Windows 98 might handle this differently. (There's no way of knowing, because Microsoft hasn't finished all the installation routines.) But once I located the ones that were already functioning and set up the ones that weren't, these new features worked very well.

When I installed the "Microsoft System Information" program, here's what I found under its menus: Windows Report Tool, Update Wizard Uninstall, System File Checker, Signature Verification Tool, Registry Checker, Automatic Skip Driver Agent, Dr. Watson, System Configuration Utility, ScanDisk and Version Conflict Manager.

On its own, the System Information program shows a wealth of data about your PC's hardware and software. Its reports cover more than 30 categories.

The Report Tool guides you through some simple steps of reporting a problem. The report is sent off to Microsoft via the Internet. I don't know yet what the Update Wizard Uninstall does, because it won't fully run (it says there are no upgrades to uninstall). The System File Checker examines every important file in the normal Windows folders and Program Files folders and logs changes. If it finds discrepancies, you can have the program reinstall the previous file or log the newer ones as the default. You can also have it check any other folders for vital files.

The Signature Verification Tool looks for "signed files" you receive by e-mail or Web exchange. They use coding to verify the authenticity of the author or sender. The Registry Checker, which makes a failsafe copy of the all-important system Registry, can be set to run automatically at each bootup, or you can run it before installing new software. No help was provided for this program, so I don't yet know how the Registry Checker handles Registry-restoration functions.

The Skip Driver Agent did nothing on my PC. It said there were no drivers it needed to skip. Microsoft says in a separate document that the Skip Driver Agent lets the PC boot up even if there is a big conflict between two pieces of hardware.

Dr. Watson is a full-featured system-reporting program. By default, it runs in a "lite" mode, but you can turn on an advanced mode to make it create a snapshot of hundreds of aspects of your PC's operation. Dr. Watson can replace many of the add-on utilities some of us use, and deserves a full treatment in another column.

The System Configuration Utility offers easy ways to turn off portions of the AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, WIN.INI and SYSTEM.INI files. Even better is a function that shows all programs that automatically run when Windows starts, with checkmarks beside them so you can turn them on or off. (This marks the first time Microsoft has made it easy for a user to control all the programs that run automatically. Startup programs of all kinds are also shown in the System Information program, but can't be turned on and off from that software.)

ScanDisk is a disk-and-file fixit program. Version Conflict Manager tries to fix problems that can come up when Windows 98 is installed on a PC running an older version of Windows. (I was not able to try it out, because I did a clean install.)

Next week: The many ways that Windows 98 behaves better than Windows 95—and some ways that it behaves worse.

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