When a browser upgrade goes awry

Theoretically, a software upgrade replaces an older version while maintaining your preferences and custom configurations. In reality, some upgrades (particularly browsers) turn on you and make your life miserable. Consider the following question:

Q. I recently installed Communicator 4.5 and spent an entire weekend getting it to work. I followed the instructions on Netscape's site, but still my address book was cruelly disfigured: entries got shuffled out of alphabetical order, and I kept getting 'illegal operation' errors. Later, I read on Netscape's tech support site, http://help.netscape.com, that the best way to install 4.5 is first to save your Bookmarks and addresses and then to uninstall the old version, restart the system, and install 4.5. Belatedly, I discovered that the Readme file presented at the end of the installation also recommends uninstalling older versions first. Are there any general rules for installing browser upgrades that might save users similar aggravation?

- Randall Carlson

A. The best rule for upgrading a browser is to check the Readme file first (few people do, though I'm sure you'll find little solace in that fact now). If you're running a version of Communicator prior to 4.5, it's a good idea to uninstall the old version before upgrading - in certain instances: if you're running CoolTalk Watchdog, or if you prefer that multiple uninstall lines for Communicator not appear in your Add/Remove Programs dialogue box in the Control Panel. If you download Communicator and can't get it to work, the best solution is to uninstall it, along with any old versions you still have, restart your PC, and then reinstall the browser.

In general, it's a good idea to back up all Bookmarks, mail, and personal configuration files before attempting to install a new version of any browser. In Communicator, head to the c:\Program Files\Netscape\Users\yourname directory, make a copy of the contents of your namesake subdirectory, and place it somewhere else on your drive as a backup of your address book (abook.nab), Bookmarks (bookmark.htm), and Mail and News folders, as well as of the prefs.js file that stores your personal configuration settings. You should also disable any virus checkers and close all running applications. To ensure that you're installing the new version onto a "clean" hard disk, run ScanDisk and Disk Defragmenter. To uninstall an older version, select Start-Settings-Control Panel-Add/Remove Programs, and then select Netscape Communicator. Restart your computer and delete any files still in the Communicator directories.

You risk disaster if you install a new version of Communicator in a new directory and then try to uninstall the old version. I've done this and ended up destroying both copies. If you intend to plant Communicator in a new folder, first uninstall the old version; create a new directory structure; and then copy your Bookmarks, address book files, and mail and news directories into the new folders. Then install the new version, and specify that new folder name in the Custom options of the Install wizard.

Importing an older address book into a new version of Communicator can be a dicey proposition, too. In theory, you simply head to Communicator-Address Book-File-Import, select Communicator Address Book, and navigate to the location of your old address book. If you still can't open the address book, close Communicator and open prefs.js in a text editor such as Notepad. If the file contains the following line, delete it: user_pref("ldap_1.directory1.isOffline", true). Resave the file.

You may need to reinstall some of your plug-ins, but first try copying the existing plug-ins DLL files from their old directory to the new one and then restarting Communicator. If the plug-ins still don't work, you'll have to reinstall them.

Upgrading IE

Some of the same rules apply to upgrading Internet Explorer. Before you start, run ScanDisk, defrag your drive, and shut down all running applications, particularly virus monitors. Consider performing a full system backup before installing any new IE versions, especially if you're using Active Desktop.

It's generally not a good idea to uninstall a previous version of IE, unless the installation wizard shoots back an error message saying it can't install over a prior version. You may run into that problem if you use apps that include IE - which these days means most Microsoft packages.

For more Internet Explorer troubleshooting tips, go to http://support.microsoft.com/support/tshoot/default.asp.

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