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January 19, 1998

Fixing Windows OSR2 bugs (or are they features?)

Windows 95B (also known as OEM Service Release 2, or OSR2) remains an anomaly among Windows versions. Windows 95B is arguably the latest flavor of Windows 95, with several minor bug fixes and device drivers. But Win95B/OSR2 is strangely hard to get. You must buy it from OEMs at the same time that they sell you a complete system, or at least a motherboard or hard drive. This was originally explained in my columns of Nov. 17, 1997, and Nov. 24, 1997. (See "Drag and drop Net files with FTP tool," and "More Explorer 4.0 bugs affect images, text, and font files.")

Win95B is somewhat more stable than earlier releases of Win95, and the improved device support is handy. But Win95B also includes a few maddening bugs. Notable among these is OSR2's incapability to dual boot between Win95B and an older version of DOS. You also cannot run Windows 3.x in DOS mode using Win95B. Both of these shortcomings are inconvenient for people who need to test programs in both environments (or who simply need to run an old program with its preferred OS).

These two failings of Win95B are all the more galling because they aren't really accidental bugs. They are bugs that were deliberately introduced into Win95B as "features" to interfere with your use of older software. There should be a word for bugs that are willfully created as features. Perhaps they are "fugs." In any case, creative programmers around the world have taken up the challenge and fixed both of these failings.

Fixing the missing dual-boot feature of Win95B is a simple matter of a change to a 400-byte boot program. This program resides in the first physical sector of your hard drive and controls the boot-up sequence.

Jrg Weske, in Taubach, Germany, has created a small program called W95boot.exe that replaces Win95B's crippled dual-boot code with functional code from the original Win95. W95boot.exe also works with Windows NT 3.5 or 4.0, using an NT switch I will describe in a moment.

Weske recommends that you run W95 boot.exe from a DOS 6.0 floppy boot disk. It creates a backup of your Win95B boot sector before changing it. If something goes wrong, you can run the command W95boot -R (for Restore) and you're back to normal.

For users of NT 3.5 or 4.0 together with OSR2, run the command W95boot -NT. Instead of modifying the real boot sector, this command modifies Bootsect.dos, the file used by the NT boot loader to enable multiboot capabilities.

To obtain a copy of W95boot.exe, which is freeware, go to http://www.tu-chemnitz.de/~jwes/win95boot.html. Download the 26KB file W95boot.zip. Unzip this file into its own separate folder. You must read the documentation file W95boot.doc (a DOS text file contained within the Zip file) to learn important exceptions before you proceed.

The incapability of Win95B to run Windows 3.x in DOS mode has been fixed by Ralf Buschmann, another German programmer. Download Osr2fix.exe, a 30KB file, by clicking a link entitled "A simple procedure" about halfway down Buschmann's Web page at http://www.conactive.com/win95/tricks/osr2bug.htm. Running Osr2fix.exe also fixes the dual-boot problem and other fugs described on the page.


Brian Livingston is the co-author of several best-selling Windows books, including the most recent Windows 95 Secrets (IDG Books). Send comments to brian_livingston@infoworld.com. Unfortunately, he cannot answer individual questions.

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