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September 14, 1998

Check your Readme files to avoid common Windows problems

When most software developers release a product that has last-minute changes or incompatibilities that appeared after the manual was written, they include a Readme.txt file with the program.

When Microsoft releases a new operating system, it includes a dozen or so of these text files, all with different names.

It's a good idea to read these files, whether you are responsible for maintaining only your own PC or hundreds. A few lines in one of these last-minute files can describe a fix to a problem that could take you hours to figure out yourself.

To find these files, open the main Windows folder in Windows Explorer, then click View, Arrange Icons, By Type. All the .TXT files should appear together.

In Windows 98, you should examine at least the following major files: General.txt (for problems that affect all PCs), Hardware.txt (for specific computers and peripherals), Printers.txt, Display.txt, and (if you have a network) Network.txt.

The files in other versions of Microsoft operating systems have similar names.

These files offer a fascinating look at the difficulties that can occur when Microsoft and independent hardware and software developers try to make all of their stuff work together. Here are a few gems:

  • USB hubs. Numerous Universal Serial Bus (USB) hubs have problems when powered by a PC bus (rather than a power adapter), or when certain USB devices are plugged in. See Hardware.txt for Microsoft's comments on Belkin, CATC, Unixtar, and Samsung hubs; Toshiba and Hitachi laptops; and other devices.

  • PCI video. Some PCI-based video adapters (Microsoft doesn't say which ones) crash Windows 98 upon first start-up, or in 16-color VGA mode, or in Safe mode because they need different Vga.drv and Vga.vxd files. Copy these from the Windows 98 CD-ROM at \Drivers\Display\Vga\Vga.drv and \Drivers\Display\Oldvga\Vga.vxd to your Win98 \System folder, as described in General.txt.

  • Briefcase. A problem that affects all Win98 users is that, with User Profiles enabled, the Briefcase does not copy files to each profile correctly. The fix is to right-click the Briefcase icon on the Desktop, delete it, right-click an unoccupied space on the Desktop, then click New, Briefcase.

  • HTML Help. If you minimize Windows 98's new HTML Help window, then right-click its Task Bar button, then click Jump to URL, the program crashes. The work-around for this problem is to fully open the HTML Help window first.

  • Update your BIOS. Numerous problems running Windows 98 can be avoided by upgrading your PC to the latest version of its BIOS firmware. See Hardware.txt for Microsoft's recommendations on the Digital HiNote, Compaq Presario, IBM ThinkPad, Micron, NEC Versa, and other PCs.

  • PC Card modems. If you get "Modem Not Found" or "Modem Not Ready" messages from your PC Card modem with Windows 98 power management enabled, you may need to add a short delay to the Registry. Run Windows 98's Regedit.exe and expand \Hkey_Local_Machine\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\Class\Modem. Select the key for your PC Card modem. On the Edit menu, click New, then DWORD Value. Name this value ConfigDelay. Click Edit, Modify, then select Decimal and type in 3000 for a 3-second delay.

Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows 98 Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions.

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