back to article Happy birthday, you lumbering MS-DOS-based mess: Windows 98 turns 20 today

Windows 98 turns 20 today. However, rose-tinted spectacles still don't make a hybrid 16 and 32 bit OS tottering on top of MS-DOS any more appealing. While Windows NT 4.0 pointed to a future free from MS-DOS, the majority of the Windows user base simply did not have the hardware to run much more than a jumped-up version of …

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I dont miss it

I had the Missfortune pleasure to be using 98 as a development platform for a hybrid C++/VB6 app back then and counted it as a good day when I got less than 1 bluescreen an hour!

Remember kids always check in before compiling and debugging!

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Re: I dont miss it

1 bluescreen an hour... you were lucky!

Before Win98 we used Win95 to develop client/server apps, the time between two BSOD was in minutes :doh:

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Re: I dont miss it

It's interesting, When Vista first came out and people hated it, I remember a few people (that actually liked Vista) pointing out that everyone also hated XP when it was first released, however I never did understand this. I remember very quickly liking XP upon release - mainly because XP was such an upgrade reliability wise from Windows 95/98/ME.

Of course, Windows 98 could run on 16MB of RAM whereas XP needed 256MB-512MB, but boy did you pay for it with the shonky reliability!

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LDS
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"however I never did understand this"

Usually, it was the people from Windows 2000 hating XP - its interface was a bit too "toy-like" for those used to a simpler one, and some elements (i.e. the windows title bars) took really too much space, especially on smaller displays like laptops. Many returned to the older interface.

I eventually settled on the "Zune" theme, which, despite its name, was a nice black/orange theme with simpler bars and smaller windows icons, and a better overall look.

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Re: I dont miss it

I remember discovering cywin and being amazed my programs ran fine compiled under that but almost exactly the same code bombed on 98.

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Big Brother

Re: I dont miss it

Fond memories of 2000, the business-like operating system that had the nice parts of Windows 98 UI, but a rock solid foundation, before the fisher price desktop of XP.

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Re: I dont miss it

LIE!, win95 didnt boot that fast.

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Happy...

...birthday dear Register (etc)

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Pint

Re: Happy...

How many long-term commentards read that as "...dear Register (hic)"?

Looking forward to another couple decades :-)

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Memories

Autoexec.bat, Config.sys,

SET SOUND=C:\PROGRAM~1\CREATIVE\CTSOUND

SET MIDI=SYNTH:1 MAP:E MODE:0

SETBLASTER=A 220 I5 D1 H5 P330 E620

REM= By HiSpeed CD-ROM Drive Installation Program 8/5/101

REM= device=C\ CD-ROM\CDTECH.SYS /d: mscd001/udma2 /v

DEVICE= C:\HXCD-ROM\CDROM.SYS /D:MSCD001

LAST DRIVE=M

At least some of the Greybeards here, must remember the battles that arose from IRQ confilicts...

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Re: Memories

You say that - I was around in that era. And my batch files for boot really pushed the boundaries of what was possible (PC Magazine AMENU, CHOICE, 4DOS, etc. etc. etc.), we were constantly shoving hardware in and out (ah, the joys of top-opening hinged, unlocked PC beige cases!) and yet I never once had an IRQ conflict. It's not hard... Soundblaster on 7, everything else on default (given that you went for IRQ 5, and CDROM.SYS there's your problem!).

P.S. I had a boot menu, from which you then selected a config, which then loaded config.sys/autoexec.bat as appropriate, and you could get anything from 638Kb of free RAM (with just mouse and MSCDEX and a lot of loading-high and other tricks if I remember rightly) through to a FORTRAN environment with RAMDisk, EMM386, etc., on especially for certain versions of Windows (3.1, 3.11 with networking , etc.) and a handful of specific-game ones that were really finicky about exact configurations to work properly. Even one for a parallel-port daisy-chain which, with the right TSR, pretended to be a (slow) IPX-capable Ethernet card which we used to game over using Quake! We upgraded to 10Base2 and then T eventually, though...

It was hilarious on an IRC forum once when someone tried to convince my brother that he'd got into our computer and "could read our AUTOEXEC.BAT". Go on, then, we said. Show us. He just copy/pasted the default MS-DOS one, and we fell about because our AUTOEXEC at that point called something like 20+ other batches files and had text menus and all sorts in it. Obviously he wanted us to "run this program that I'll DCC you to fix everything so other people can't get in".

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Re: Memories

At least some of the Greybeards here, must remember the battles that arose from IRQ confilicts...

/me hides under desk, quivering. Occasional light sobbing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Memories

"Even one for a parallel-port daisy-chain which, with the right TSR, pretended to be a (slow) IPX-capable Ethernet card "

I wrote several int14 TSRs that intercepted applications' serial port only connections. They made them more useful via NDIS for LAN communications - or for back-to-back comms between applications on the same PC etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Memories

Your SET BLASTER line is missing T6 ;)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Memories

>At least some of the Greybeards here, must remember the battles that arose from IRQ confilicts...

And people whine about pulseaudio, don't know their born.

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Re: Memories

> the joys of top-opening hinged, unlocked PC beige cases

Remember cases where the motherboard and expansion card slots slid out on a tray? Ah, that was the life.

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Re: Memories

Can't decide if I'm impressed or horrified you hammered that out.

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Re: Memories

"At least some of the Greybeards here, must remember the battles that arose from IRQ confilicts..."

remember them !!

I was having one with a Win98 install last year - a 15 year old GC (that's gas chromatograph) that only runs with software written for Win 98. The card causing me all the problems had memory settings set by dip switches on the board.

Hardest part wasn't getting it working, it was getting my brain remembering to remember what id not done in so many years.

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Re: Memories

Are those win98 chromatographs still going?! I recall validating them a few years ago on on a large industrial site.

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Re: Memories

I have 3 out there I have to look after, still going strong, hardest part if finding spares for the PC's

managed to virtualise some of the instruments that use Ethernet or USB connections, the ones with bespoke cards are the issue

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Memories

> the joys of top-opening hinged, unlocked PC beige cases

I was on YTS and left school when I saw my first IBM AT 286 PC. You switched it on and it counted the installed memory. Wow! 2048KB... It was used for testing ISA graphics cards, so was inconstant use. It was about a year before I discovered that it even had a case!

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Re: Memories

Ohhhhhh..... trying to get an Adaptec SCSI controller working with a Soundblaster, and two Parallel ports on the same machine was a source of much hair-pulling, and juggling of IRQs. I still have nightmares of losing the little black jumpers to change IRQ just as I needed them. How things have changed - Mostly for the better, and though I am mainly a Mac user these days, I still sort of miss those days, and if you could troubleshoot (successfully) back then, then not much phases your since.....

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Re: Memories

"Longtime readers will also note that 1998 saw The Register lumber online."

Ahh! - the good old days, when El Reg journos knew what they were talking about, and used to proof read their articles before posting them.

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Re: Memories

"At least some of the Greybeards here, must remember the battles that arose from IRQ confilicts..."

Not if you knew what you were doing and by the time I had a Soundblaster* , a NIC**, a serial card and a "Hi-Speed" IDE controller playing nicely together I bloody well did.

All of which was 10 years before Windows 98 reared its ugly head. By the end of the 90s you really should have sprung for PnP (Plug and Pray) gear, you cheapskates.

* And none of your fancy SB16 nonsense, please. This was an ISA card with jumpers to set.

** A NE2100 clone that came in a white box with a red diagonal stripe or maybe a red box with a white diagonal stripe. I miss the days when PC parts came in small, sturdy plain boxes that looked like spare parts boxes, not huge things full of air with pictures of half naked barbarians and and spaceships all over them. Not that I have any problem with half naked barbarians, they have their place just not on the box for electronic parts.

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The ONLY things going for it were

1) No Tiles

2) No forced updates

3) No slurping.

Other than that is was mostly a POS especially wrt BSOD's.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

Pardon me for being too young to have any relevant experience*, but the stories I've heard were that '98 was the good one when compared to '95 and would be the gold standard of Windows Operating systems until XP was released.

*I only just remember "It is now safe to turn off your computer"

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

'98 was the good one when compared to '95

Yeah, sort of. But it was a bit of a Hobson's Choice. 95 was like having somebody stamp on your jaw, while 98 was like having somebody stamp on your hand. ME was like having somebody stamp on your balls, then the jaw, then the hand...

I bailed out to NT4 around the time ME came along.

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Happy

Re: The ONLY things going for it were

the gold standard of Windows Operating systems until XP was released.

Win 2k peed all over every other MS os well into xp's lifespan for getting actual work done just because it had the decent kernel and UI and less of the power-sapping bloat that the consumer-targeted OS's have.

I personally didn't move over to XP from 2k for quite a while just because I couldn't afford the ram required for a long time.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The ONLY things going for it were

And being able to get online easily.

Decent selection of software

Good(ish) hardware support

Compared to the POS that Linux was at that time.

1) Crap DE's

2) Very little office software, and NO, StarOffice doesn't count

3) No multimedia software worth talking about

4) Really Crap hardware support

5) A nightmare to set up modems

And on and on and on

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

I kept 98 SE until XP Service Pack 3 made XP usable. The initial XP release was also a mess, and the experience with 98 and XP trained many people to avoid Windows versions until after at least the first service pack.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

'98 was the good one when compared to '95 and would be the gold standard of Windows Operating systems until XP was released.

I think you are confusing 98 with 98SE - released May 5, 1999.

The next solid one was W2K-SP4 followed by XP-SP3.

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Devil

Re: The ONLY things going for it were

ME was like having somebody stamp on your balls, then the jaw, then the hand...

ME is one of the few Windows OSes I never have had to support professionally (from Windows 2 to current iterations). I did get on it once at my in-laws'. They had an issue and since I was handy they asked if I would have a look. I stopped looking when I started to develop an eye twitch.

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LDS
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"I bailed out to NT4 around the time ME came along."

I switched to NT4 before 98 came along. I was just hired as a junior programmer, and given a 95 machine I was debugging a nasty program with a bug which hung the PC while I was trying to pinpoint the cause. Everytime it happened, I had to reset, wait for the reboot, and then restart everything and try to recreate the bug. It was exhausting, especially when 95 decided it needed a disk check.

Until I asked a senior colleague to help - he was running NT4 and I saw he could open Task Manager, kill the offending application, and restart debugging. I went to my boss and told him I had an "absolute need of NT4 to debug the application in time", luckily backed by my colleague (for some strange reason the authorization had to came from the CEO assistant!).

Since then, I replaced my home PC with one able to run NT4 - the only issue was games, many didn't run with the older DirectX version supported by NT4 - after all it was a bonus, I spent more time improving my programming skills than gaming...

I've mostly see 98 only as a deployment platform for customers, and never loved it.

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Re: "I bailed out to NT4 around the time ME came along."

"I've mostly see 98 only as a deployment platform for customers, and never loved it."

Me too. I never understood the claim that NT4 needed more resources. If anything, it was the reverse: 9x was a complete dog in less than 16MB.

It was also a dog's breakfast internally, so if you had any say in your development platform you'd dual-boot. Get the application working on NT, where you had a debugger worthy of the name, and then test on 9x to find the platform dependencies. (With a little experience and care, those were pretty minimal.)

I'd adopted a similar approach a few years earlier with 3.x. I would build the 32-bit version and get it working on NT. Then I'd flick some compiler switches and test the 16-bit build on DOS (er, I mean, Windows 3.1x). Again, with a little experience, you learned the safe subset and this process was pretty well-behaved.

Basically, for most of the 90s, the trick was to do whatever it takes to avoid having to develop on DOS-based Windows. Happily, eventually our userbase realised what we had known for a decade or so -- DOS was shit and NT was both faster and leaner than they had read in the magazines, as well as being several thousand times less crash-prone. (That's no exaggeration, by the way. NT 3.x blue-screened on me about once in ten years. It's DOS cousin would usually roll over at least a day. You can do the maths yourself.)

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

OS/2 Warp holdout here, until finally forced to admit defeat and use XP. Soon changed to SuSE though... then through lots of experimentation and distro-hopping to a stable environment with Windows relegated to a VM :).

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were ( @AC )

1998 was when I dumped Windows for good and switched to Linux full time... Point 1 is utter nonsense: KDE was already vastly superior in usability, flexibility, reliability and sheer functionality than any version of Windows Explorer until Win 7 (and even then it was superior in some ways.)

Enlightenment made Windows look like something from the stone age and ran incredibly smoothly even on limited hardware.

Point 2 - It may not have had the same range of MS Office copycat equivalents, (though why on earth shouldn't StarOffice count? I used it and it was fine... also WP8 a little later on which was sadly not as good as the Windows version.)

On the other hand, there were many other routes to document creation from a different school of thought - LyX already existed to make LaTeX more accessible and was far better than Word for my (academic) purposes.

Point 4 is mostly nonsense - true, there were specific abominations like WinModems and WinPrinters appearing around this time - (although I had both, and within a year or so both were quite well supported.) Already though, the sheer range of hardware supported was beginning to be extremely impressive - particularly since most of it was done by parties other than the device manufacturers.

Point 5 - modems were a breeze to set up, unless they happened to be cheap junk masquerading as modems but missing most of their important parts. Even then, many of them could be persuaded to work with a little extra effort - probably better spent on obtaining a half reasonable device in the first place though.

And on and on and on - 20 years later I wouldn't dream of running anything else on my own PCs - I waste enough of my day getting paid to fix endless Microsoft induced problems, I have no intention on having to do that after work too!

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

No. The gold standard for Windows OSes was (and still is!) NT2K ... followed closely by the various iterations of OS/2.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

AC goes: "on and on and on"

Yep. And it's getting monotonous. It wasn't true then, it isn't true now, and it won't be true no matter how many times you say it. I can't tell if you're a very bad troll or an out-and-out Microsoft shill. It's been 20 years and your kind are still not doing anything useful. Worse, you're boring, all of you. Give it up already.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

I have hear, and said "Wait for Service Pack 1" as Straight Gospel so many times from 98 until Vista (no Service Pack could save that blight).

If you had Real Work™ to get done, one pretty much had to.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

1) Gnome and KDE were in the early stages or even a glint in someones eye, but FVWM was around (and WindowMaker) and these must have been mature by then as they've hardly changed.

2) You mean LaTex, Vi or Emacs aren't good enough?

3) No, but neither had anything much (I do recall the fun of compiling and optimising Xine by hand a year or two later, and gotten OSS working.

4) Well, yes (see 5)

5) Mainly with Winmodems. If you had one, give up and buy a decent hardware one, they generally weren't that expensive (unless you had no option but for a PCMCIA one).

6) Still more fun than Windows. Learn to love using a computer again without feeling degraded, inhibited or patronised by 'wizzard' dialogs or poorly animated puppies or anthropomorphised paperclips.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

Teiwaz: KDE reached version 1.0 in 1998, although I started with a pre-release version and it was already really very good as I mentioned.

Having said that, as I gradually found my way around Linux I later switched to WindowMaker and use it to this day on my main PC - stability and responsiveness never get old!

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

Am I mis-remembering, or was NT 3.51 quite a bit more stable than NT4 until SP3 came out? I was running 3.51 in a research lab and that baby was a tank. Then again, it was probably running on better hardware (Compaq from the days when Compaq was expensive and worth every penny.)

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

The irony was, that without all that stuff (I'm talking RH4, maybe kernel 1.2.13?) Linux was the thing at the other end of your modem supplying the Internet. Those GeoCities pages had to live somewhere after all.

That and the freeBSD box that ran cdrom.com for years....

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

>>They had an issue and since I was handy they asked if I would have a look. I stopped looking when I started to develop an eye twitch.<<

I made a good deal of money during a year where people needed help with ME machines. I'd tell them, I'll wipe your machine and install 98SE but won't help with ME. Probably 20 people in the company I worked for took me up on that. You could buy a sound card and get 98SE media cheap.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

>>Am I mis-remembering, or was NT 3.51 quite a bit more stable than NT4 until SP3 came out?<<

If I remember right, NT4 was mostly 3.51 with a 'slicker' front end. SP's made it better of course.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

I tweeked that on our installations.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

95 was a revolutionary change, it's to be expected that it would be a bit buggy. 98 was an upgrade from 95, but I would dispute that it was worth waiting 3 years for that benefit.

I still have a soft spot for 95, relative to 98. It's like - Vista to 7. I loathed Vista with a violent passion, but it had this much excuse: that it was at least trying to be something different. 7 learned (and benefited) from Vista's mistakes.

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

95 was a revolutionary change, it's to be expected that it would be a bit buggy

Yet other windowing systems didn't have this problem, on a fraction of the resources...

But look at the requirements for W98 now which was considered bloated in its day and compare to today's Windows, and ask yourself what's really different (apart from TIFKAM).

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Re: The ONLY things going for it were

At least at the Windows 95 launch, we had the coolness of the little Logitech scanner, a miracle for those fighting with SCSI, or worse, serial, scanners. But maybe it was just the cracking music from Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians that made it acceptable.

My goodness, I feel old.

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Anonymous Coward

"NT4 was mostly 3.51 with a 'slicker' front end."

No, for example it moved the graphics code in the kernel - performance improved, but it also led to many issues in the beginning because drivers had to be rewritten and bad ones would BSODs easily.

I don't remember if NT4 also introduced domains and domain controllers, or if those were available earlier.

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