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Hidden features of Windows 98, Part 2
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

Hidden features of Windows 98, Part 2 

Technofile for May 3, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Last week I told you about one of the best hidden features of Windows 98—a program called the Registry Checker that backs up the vital Registry files and any other files you specify. (The fact that it backs up other files is likely to be a mystery to most "experts." I love tripping these people up.)

This week I'll tell you about Microsoft's belated recognition that its Internet-connection software in Windows 95 needed a big change—a change that has shown up in Windows 98—and review a few other hidden facets of Windows 98.

The best part first: Windows 98 finally gets rid of a function in Windows 95 that slows down nearly all Internet connections. The function is built into the PC's Winsock software. (Winsock, for "Windows sockets," helps connect your PC to the Internet. It allows many "sockets," or separate network connections, to be made at the same time.)

Networks, including the Big Daddy, the Internet itself, send things back and forth in small bursts. These are called packets. Windows 95 sets up its Winsock connection to the Internet using packet sizes that are much too large for the computers it is connected to. The result: Stuff doesn't arrive properly and has to be resent. (This is done automatically by the computers on each end.)

Let me explain what's happening without all the technobabble. You are your neighbor are cleaning up the area behind your yards. You have a bucket and so does she. You fill your bucket and drag it over to dump it into her bucket, so she can then dump it in the trash. But your bucket holds two gallons and hers holds one. So you end up dumping half as much as you wanted to, then you wait until she comes back so you can dump the rest. It's a big waste of time. If you each had the same size bucket, the work would go faster.

The "bucket" (the packet size) used on the Internet usually holds less than 600 bytes. What Windows 95 calls for is a "bucket" (a packet—but then you knew that by now) that holds about 1,800 bytes. So when your Windows 95 PC sends a big packet, the receiving computer can't handle it and tells Windows to trim it down. (It can do other things, too, but we're leaving the tech stuff out.) So Windows does this, and then does something really dumb—it sends out another big packet, and goes through the same stupid packet-size-dance, over and over again.

Tweakers have known for more than two years that they can change this packet size, called the Maximum Transmission Unit, or MTU, by various means. The number that seems to work best is 576 bytes. But 576 is much too low for higher-speed connections, like the kind you'll get with a cable Internet hookup, and it's usually too low for some other connections, too. That means changing the MTU setting might make things worse.

So Microsoft did something smart. In Windows 98, the MTU setting is changed automatically based on the speed of your connection. With a normal modem connection, MTU is 576. It goes up if the connection speed is higher. If you have Windows 98, you'll find the new function in the Network applet of the Control Panel, under Dialup Adapter Properties. (Leave it set to "Automatic" for IP Packet Size.)

We're out of space, so I'll mention only one more secret touch in Windows 98 this time: To automatically line up the Details view in an Explorer window, press hold down the Ctrl key and press the "plus" key on the keypad. (Stump the "experts" on that one!)

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