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Hidden features of Windows 98, Part 1
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule


Hidden features of Windows 98, Part 1 


Technofile for April 26, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Some of the best things about Windows 98 are hidden away. Even the experts aren't likely to know about them.

This week and next, I'll describe a few of these hidden features. Save these columns or create links to them on the Web so you can return to them when you upgrade to Windows 98 or when you buy a new PC with Windows 98 already installed. (Windows 98 can be ordered ahead of time, but the official release date is June 25.)

My favorite hidden feature is tucked away in a new function of Windows 98 called the Windows Registry Checker. I'll explain what the Registry is and what the Registry Checker does before I tell you about the hidden part.

Windows 95 and Windows 98 have two extremely important files that contain nearly all the information Windows needs to do its work right. They are called system.dat and user.dat. (Some PCs will have additional user.dat files named after each of the users who log onto the PC.)

Windows takes these two files when it boots up and creates a single Registry out of them. Both Windows 95 and Windows 98 know how to spot a badly corrupted Registry—they refuse to use it and demand that you boot up in Safe Mode, which bypasses much of the Registry—but that's where the similarity ends.

When Windows 98 starts up, the operating system automatically runs the Registry Checker to see if there are any obvious problems with the Registry. (This is something Windows 95 won't do unless you add extra functions in add-on software.) The Registry Checker also makes a copy of both parts of the Registry—presumably, after making sure they are OK—and it adds a third function, one that the experts should know about: If the Registry Checker finds a problem with the current Registry, it substitutes the one it previously copied.

Now the good stuff. Stump the experts when you mention these features, which Microsoft does not talk about except in its own technical documents:

    • The Registry Checker fine-tunes the Registry, taking out stuff that isn't supposed to be there. (Technically, it optimizes the Registry once the extra fat reaches 500 kilobytes.) It does not clean the Registry the way RegClean (an unofficial Microsoft utility) does; you should still use RegClean at least once a week.
    • The Registry Checker creates five backup copies of the Registry, not just one. And you can tell it to create as many as 99 separate, incremented backups, a new one made every time Windows starts up. This is done by specifying the number of backups in the scanreg.ini file. (A sample of that file is included below.)
    • The Registry checker will also back up as many as 99 sets of other files, too. These can be any files in the root directory of your boot drive, in the main Windows folder or in the System folder inside the Windows folder. You'll see how to do this in the sample scanreg.ini file below.

This means you can have the Registry Checker back up your autoexec.bat and config.sys files, any of your Windows "ini" files (such as system.ini and win.ini), any of your log files (such as the one that tracks your modem's activity, if you've turned that on) and so on.

It's important to note that these backups are not simply copies of your current files. The Registry Checker does not copy current files over the top of previous ones—that would defeat the purpose of a backup, since it could replace good files with bad ones. Instead, it creates a separate compressed archive of the Registry files and the other files you've specified each time it runs. If you specify, say, 10 backup copies, you'll have the last 10 versions of these files available at any time.

There are actually two Registry Checkers in Windows 98. One is called scanreg.exe and works under DOS, when Windows 98 has not finished initializing; the other is scanregw.exe and runs under Windows 98. (If you run scanreg.exe under Windows 98, it quickly spawns a copy of scanregw.exe.)

Both use the same configuration file, called scanreg.ini, and both use the same command-line switches. Command-line switches are used in either of two basic ways—after the name of the file when you type the command in DOS, or after the name of the file when you create a shortcut in Windows 98. (Don't write to me telling me there are other ways to do command-line switches; I know there are.)

Here are the command-line switches:

    • Scanreg /?

—Shows a help screen.

    • Scanreg /backup

—Backs up the Registry.

    • Scanreg /restore

—Restores the Registry; you're asked to choose from the backed-up versions.

    • Scanreg /fix

—Repairs the Registry.

    • Scanreg /opt

—Optimizes the Registry.

The configuration file, scanreg.ini, is stored in the Windows folder. But don't go rummaging through the Windows folder to find it; just press the Start button, click Find, then type "scanreg.ini" (without the quotes, of course). The scanreg.ini file will open up either in your favorite, well designed text editor or in Notepad. (That's a hint, in case I'm being too coy. Get a replacement for Notepad now if you don't have one already.)

Once you have scanreg.ini open in the editor, you can make changes. Be careful! If you're not completely sure that you know what you're doing, make a backup copy first! In fact, if you don't know how to make a backup copy of an "ini" file, you probably should not be doing this, but I'll explain a simple way: Before editing the file, open a DOS window and type this command: copy c:\windows\scanrfeg.ini c:\windows\scanreg.inb.

Here's how scanreg.ini might look when you open it:

;

; Scanreg.ini for making system backups.

;

;Registry backup is skipped altogether if this is set to 0.

Backup=1

;Registry automatic optimization is skipped if this is set to 0.

Optimize=1

ScanregVersion=0.0001

; Max backup copies can be 0 to 99. Make at least 5.

MaxBackupCopies=5

;Backup directory where the cabs are stored is

; <windir>\sysbckup by default. Value below overrides it.

; It must be a full path. Example: c:\tmp\backup

;

BackupDirectory=

; (Blank after the "=" means the default folder is used.

; Additional system files to backup into cab as follows:

; Filenames are separated by ','

; dir code can be:

; 10 : windir (example: c:\windows)

; 11 : system dir (example: c:\windows\system)

; 30 : boot dir (example: c:\)

; 31 : boot host dir (example: c:\)

;

;Files=[dir code,]file1,file2,file3

;Files=[dir code,]file1,file2,file3

; Examples below are actual working lines.Customize them if you want.

; You cannot use wildcards. You must use full names.

Files=10,win.ini,system.ini

Files=30,autoexec.bat,config.sys,msdos.sys


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