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April 14, 1997

Think you've got PC problems? Oh, the troubles I've seen

Many readers assume -- because I've been writing a Windows column for InfoWorld for five and a half years -- that I must have the world's greatest Windows system. They suppose that I worked out all the bugs long ago, added numerous secret functions that only I know about, and run Windows without a care.

It ain't necessarily so. My personal workstation is so buggy that I hope to give you a little sense of satisfaction that your situation couldn't possibly be as bad as mine. My good old Windows 95 system crashes at least once or twice a day, usually in broad daylight for no apparent reason.

It crashed while I was typing the first paragraph of this column, when there were no other operations running that I was aware of.

That pretty blue screen appeared with the user-friendly message, "A fatal exception 0E has occurred at 0137:BFF783DF." Pressing Enter to "terminate the current application," of course, only returns me to a barely there desktop. Ctrl+Alt+Delete does nothing, not even display a Close Program dialog box. There's no escape except the Reset button, and sometimes even a power-off is required.

Like a village cobbler whose children have no shoes, your friendly neighborhood Window Manager simply muddles through this less-than-admirable situation. I save documents I'm working on every minute or so in case Windows locks up. I try not to have too many applications open at the same time. Somehow I get some work done.

Oh, I've analyzed my .DLL files and eliminated those that seem to be duplicates or obsolete versions. But I'm sure I've missed something somewhere.

I'm sure the flaky performance I'm seeing on my Micron 120-MHz Pentium system is the result of all the marvelous junk I've installed over the years. For example, I've been using Windows 95 since 18 months before it was actually released. There must be layers of code that were never supposed to see the light of day deep down in there.

I use three different Web browsers: Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, and an old version of CompuServe's Mosaic. Usually at least one of them is functioning at any given moment, so at least I can check out Web sites readers suggest.

I have three different e-mail clients: E-Mail Connection (from ConnectSoft, in Redmond, Wash.), Microsoft Exchange, and Ricochet (a wireless service I'm trying). Ricochet can send mail through Exchange but can't retrieve it, so I retrieve through Navigator.

Two modems are connected to my machine, Ricochet's wireless modem and a Microcom DeskPorte Fast that is supposed to work through the parallel port, but which I finally had to connect to a serial port instead.

After all this, it's a wonder I can boot up at all. The Windows Explorer crashes with errors in User.exe or Kernel32.exe with no provocation. Sometimes my system doesn't recognize drive B: (a 5.25-inch floppy), and I have to reboot. And just a few days ago, my internal CD-ROM drive and SCSI Zip drive simply disappeared from My Computer. They are recognized during boot-up but no longer appear in the Explorer.

The answer, I'm sure, is to get a new hard drive, format it, install the latest version of Windows on it, and reinstall everything important from the old drive. I do intend to do this some day. If I learn anything interesting, you'll be the first to know.

Now don't you feel better about your PC?

Brian Livingston is the co-author of Windows 95 Secrets Gold and four other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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Copyright © 1997 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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