Practice safe sectors

Psst. Don't look now, but some of your users are about to throw caution to the wind, break company policy, and install Windows 98. So here's a word of advice. Before you allow your users to insert the Windows 98 upgrade CD, get them a copy of V Communications' System Commander Special Edition for Windows 98 (http://www.v-com.com or call Marketing Results on (02) 9899 5888).

Consider it a prophylactic for your PC. Better still, think of it as a way to cope with the fact that Windows 98 shipped before it was ready.

Sure, we stoic IT types understand that abstinence is the best policy. But we also know there are always users who can't exercise restraint. After all, buying Windows 98 is the closest thing some nerds get to spending money on a date.

You may not know it to look at them, but some of the most respectable people have "Version Disorder" -- an obsessive-compulsive disease known to cause computers to swell up with the latest versions of every product. Those afflicted have no choice but to ignore Brian Livingston's recent series of columns warning readers that Windows 98 can overwrite DLL files and break some programs.

Yes, Microsoft has denied these problems exist. But I can vouch for some of them, personally. So far I've experienced broken installation programs, broken applications, and broken video drivers. I've run out of system resources by opening too many Eudora mailboxes (granted, the problem could be that I only have 128M bytes of RAM on that machine). And when Windows 98 trashed the entire Windows directory tree on one machine, I was almost tempted to cancel my membership to the Citizens for the Moral Defense of Microsoft Club.

But I can't in all good conscience blame Microsoft. The company made it clear that Windows 98 is strictly a consumer-only product. Excuse me a moment: "Hey Bob, let me know when you're done with that financial report, `cuz I can't wait to try those network administration and policy editor games that come with Windows 98!"

In case you're not familiar with the System Commander line of products, they allow you to boot multiple operating systems on the same PC. The version I'm using, System Commander Deluxe, lets me boot Windows 95, Windows NT, OS/2, and multiple versions of DOS from a single FAT-16 partition, and various flavours of Unix from other partitions. It also lets me create, resize, and convert FAT partitions to and from FAT-32.

The Special Edition for Windows 98 is a scaled-down version of System Commander Deluxe, but with a twist. It is customised for those users who want to upgrade from Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 to Windows 98, but want the reassurance that they can boot to their trusty old version during those moments when Windows 98 proves to be less than ideal.

Here's how it works. You install System Commander Special Edition for Windows 98 before you install Windows 98. Then you install the Windows 98 upgrade. Don't worry -- System Commander saves a copy of your original version of Windows. It tracks and organises the files so that you can choose between Windows 98 and your original version of Windows at boot time.

Why waste all that time you invested in Windows 95 tweaking it to be relatively stable? System Commander leverages that effort by letting you boot into Windows 95 when you're on a tight deadline and your word processor or presentation software suddenly starts crashing under Windows 98.

This way you get your work done when it needs to be done, and you can save the Windows 98 troubleshooting sessions for those special intimate moments you set aside during the weekend for just you and your computer.

Given that you can protect yourself with System Commander, does that make it easier for you to take the Windows 98 plunge?

(A former consultant and programmer, Nicholas Petreley will write bad puns for food. Reach him at nicholas_petreley@infoworld.com, and be sure to visit his forum at http://www.infoworld.com.)

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