Geek News: Windows 95 not designed for strenuous workouts

It’s been a little over a year since Windows 95 was released, and I can still remember those heady days. After several years tasting several rather bitter flavors of Windows 3.x, there was a promise of a wonderful new version.

A version of Windows that handled memory properly, so you wouldn’t get “out of error messages” even though your computer had more memory than it knew what to do with. A version of Windows that wouldn’t crash a couple of dozen times a day. A version of Windows that would live up to the original promise of Windows — a true multitasking operating system.

A few months before the release of Windows 95, I was at a Microsoft seminar. Not much of the seminar sticks in my mind, with the exception of one particular comment by a speaker. “Surveys show,” he said, “that 80 percent of all Windows users never work with more than one program running at a time.”

(Was it 80 percent, 70 percent? I don’t remember now, but it was not only most users, it was a large majority.)

“Ah, how lucky for Microsoft,” I thought at the time. If most users worked with Windows in the way it was intended to be used, in the manner that it was supposed to be capable of working, Microsoft Windows would have been a miserable failure. Why? Because if you did any serious multitasking, the system crashed. Not all the time, of course. Just eight or 10 times a day.

Now, I’ll admit I give my operating systems a serious workout. Today, for instance, I’ve had about 11 or 12 major programs running, plus about four or five small utilities running in the background. Of course, I’m running Windows 95; with Windows 3.x, my system would have frozen solid before I’d got to the sixth program.

Now, one might say that nobody needs all these programs running at once. But I really do. Or rather, it makes my work more convenient if I have them all open at once, and that’s what Windows 95 is supposed to be all about.

Remember the talk about your computer’s desktop? The computer is supposed to be another business tool, as convenient (ha!) as your desktop, and capable of holding just as much.

I need my word-processing program running — I’m a writer, after all. Today I was also running a beta copy of the Netscape Navigator Web browser, because I’m revising a book I wrote about that product. So I also needed the previous version running, to check what had changed between versions.

At some point, I also was running the FrontPage Editor and FrontPage Explorer, two Web-authoring tools, so I could quickly create a few Web pages and test what Navigator could and could not display correctly. I like to keep my e-mail program running all the time, too, because I get e-mail throughout the day. So I have to keep Dial-Up Networking running as well, to maintain my connection to the Internet.

I need my phone-book program running; I spend a lot of my time on the phone. And, of course, Norton File Manager; I always seem to be doing something with document or image files. Plus my snapshot program, so I can take the pictures of Netscape that I have to include in my book. Oh, and TimeSheet, a program that tracks how much time I spend on each project.

Plus, of course, those utilities running in the background; a program that automatically backs up modified files every three hours, another that checks for disk problems and warns me if it finds them, yet another that watches for programs being installed and keeps track of changes to my system.

All in all, a good 50 to 60 megabytes of memory used up. Luckily, I have 64MB of memory. (Why does Microsoft recommend 16MB of RAM for running Windows 95?

Because they’d shock people if they stated how much memory is really needed to run it efficiently.) So, how many times did Windows 95 crash today? Oh, about five. That’s better than Windows 3.x would have managed, of course, but it was still about five times too many.

Now, my Windows 95 has been getting more unstable over the last few months É it wasn’t always this way. I have another problem, you see. I install too much software. Several new programs each week (well, it’s my job!).

Now, you might remember that Windows 3.x had a problem with its .INI files (its initialization files). Programs would write instructions into the .INI files, which would grow too big, and get too disorganized, and the operating system would begin misbehaving. When I used Windows 3.x, I had to completely reinstall every six months or so. It was a good two days work; clearing the hard disk, reinstalling Windows, then reinstalling each and every program I needed. But if I didn’t do that, Windows would gradually become totally unusable.

Of course, now things have changed. Windows 95 did away with those awful .INI problems; they’re gone for good. Instead, Windows 95 uses something called the System Registry. It’s sort of like a giant .INI file, really.

But Microsoft promised that it would solve those nasty .INI problems. I’m not sure how or why, and they never really did explain that, but the Registry just would, things would be better … Windows would finally be stable.

Funny thing is, my copy of Windows isn’t very stable right now. I used a new program from Symantec recently to examine my Registry, and it found 800 “orphans,” entries in the Registry that refer to files on the hard disk that aren’t actually there. Oops, I guess some programs aren’t cleaning up properly when they’re uninstalled. (Now, wasn’t that one of the problems with the .INI files?)

Anyway, I think I’ll probably reinstall Windows 95 pretty soon. I’ll format the hard disk, install Windows 95, then reinstall all the programs; it’ll take a couple of days, but it’ll be worth it. And you know, Windows 95 really is better than Windows 3.1. I mean, it’s been over a year since I installed Windows 95. With Windows 3.1, I had to reinstall every six months or so! “Windows 95, twice as stable as Windows 3.1.” Sounds good, kinda like “The New Yugo, Twice as Reliable as the Old Yugo!”

Peter Kent is seeing how far he can push Windows 95 before it’s completely unusable. He can be contacted at pkent@arundel.com. His latest book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Internet (3rd Edition)” was recently published by Que.