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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  1. }{amis}{ Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    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!

    1. Potemkine! Silver badge

      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:

      1. Dave K Silver badge

        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!

        1. LDS Silver badge

          "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.

        2. WallMeerkat Bronze badge
          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.

      2. M man

        Re: I dont miss it

        LIE!, win95 didnt boot that fast.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      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.

  2. John 110

    Happy...

    ...birthday dear Register (etc)

    1. jake Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Happy...

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

      Looking forward to another couple decades :-)

  3. Khaptain Silver badge

    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...

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      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".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      2. Gene Cash Silver badge

        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.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          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!

    2. Zippy's Sausage Factory

      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.

      1. Davegoody

        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.....

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Memories

      Your SET BLASTER line is missing T6 ;)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      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.

    5. Agamemnon

      Re: Memories

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

    6. wallaby

      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.

      1. Binraider666

        Re: Memories

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

        1. wallaby

          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

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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.

    8. Cpt Blue Bear

      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.

  4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    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.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      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"

      1. defiler Silver badge

        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.

        1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
          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.

          1. JW 1

            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.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          "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.

          1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

            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.)

        3. PeteA
          Linux

          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 :).

        4. bobajob12

          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.)

          1. JW 1

            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.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              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.

              1. defiler Silver badge

                Re: "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.

                This. Pre-SP3 NT4 choked on the ATI video drivers all the time. In fact, most video drivers demanded SP3 before you could install them. Even the supremely vanilla cards in servers.

                Got all the way to SP6a in the end...

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The ONLY things going for it were

              The massive architectural change was NT4 moved (video) drivers into kernel space. NT 3.51 ran them in user space, which was slow but reliable.

          2. Mage Silver badge

            Re: NT 3.51 quite a bit more stable than NT4

            The issue was GDI moved to Kernel to speed up video & animation and Direct X. Really stupid. With decent GFX hardware & printers and good drivers, the BSOD was very rare on NT4.0. Non-existent on NT 3.5 & NT3.51 unless faulty HW.

            NT 3.51 was just the fake extra APIs added to NT3.5 due to MS deliberately ensuring MS Office 95 wouldn't run on WFWG3.11 etc, Many 32bit NT apps ran on Win32s on WFWG3.11. Like Win3.1x, Win95 & Win98 couldn't create Named Pipes, only connect as a client. So the same NT3.5x apps that didn't work on Win32s, didn't work on Win9x/ME.

          3. WallMeerkat Bronze badge

            Re: The ONLY things going for it were

            Loved 3.5.1 - old school Win 3.1 style interface, but you could amaze your colleagues by firing up a then-modern Office 97 :D

            (That was why Office 97 drew it's own controls)

            Some 95/NT4/Win32 software ran nicely, mostly those that didn't use the new APIs.

      2. }{amis}{ Silver badge
        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.

        1. N2 Silver badge

          Re: The ONLY things going for it were

          Yes, I ran 2K well to 2010 most of the other versions were bloated, power sapping, gilded turds.

          I suppose 7 was OK, but my 2K box was so reliable, loved it warts 'n all.

      3. Kimo

        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.

        1. Agamemnon

          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.

          1. Mage Silver badge

            Re: Vista (no Service Pack could save that blight).

            Win7 should have been free to Vista users. It was the SP.

        2. trog-oz

          Re: The ONLY things going for it were

          I kept 98 SE until XP Service Pack 3 made XP usable.

          I always felt SP3 slowed it down too much and XP SP2 was a point at which M$ should have stopped developing o/s, the other being W3.1 and W2000 (with service packs). NT4 wasn't bad, mostly because it didn't do anything.

          After XP, IMO M$ o/s's got more and more bloated and slower and slower. I did some bench marking once and found W7 ran a quarter the speed of XP and W8.1 a twentieth.

          As to W98, I had to upgrade my relatively stable W95 machine to it, and the box was never the same. Crashed several times a day.

      4. Roland6 Silver badge

        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.

        1. veti Silver badge

          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.

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            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).

          2. Davegoody

            Re: The ONLY things going for it were

            Yes, but don't forget the abomination that was WindowsME. It was basically Windows 98, but with GUI access prioritised in the boot-up sequence. It gave the impression of having a UI far quicker than it actually was, as thought the UI was present, it was completely unusable until the rest of the subsystems had loaded. Even when the UI was present it was so flaky that it often took multiple reboots before it was actually possible to do any work (or play games).....

          3. Mage Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: 95 was a revolutionary change

            No, it wasn't little more than Win3.x with Explorer shell, updated Win32s, replacement for VFW and bundled 32bit drivers. The 32bit TCP/IP was optional, and essentially the same.

            NT 3.1 was MS's big change. The Explorer shell was even available as a tech preview for NT3.51.

            The NT3.51 & Win3.x File manager was superior to Explorer's file manager and still worked on NT4.0 even without Progman shell.

            Explorer's file manager got worse with Win7 and is horrible in Win10.

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