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June 24, 1996

Five years old and still digging up those secrets: a trip down memory lane

The Window Manager column is now 5 years old. That's right -- my first column for InfoWorld was published June 24, 1991, two months before my first book, Windows 3 Secrets. (See "The benefits and quirks of using DOS 5.0 for Windows," page 21.)

Thanks to the miracle of political correctness, I'm not five years older: I'm chronologically enhanced.

With some 250 columns behind me, it's time to do something I've never done before: Look back at the best of the old columns and ponder how I might top them in the next five years of uncovering secrets. If you would like to look up one of the following all-time bests, see our Reader Resources, page 112, for information on how to obtain back issues of InfoWorld.

  • Crash-proof Windows. The column with the most impact on readers revealed a way to eliminate a large proportion of crashes that afflicted Windows 3.1. This column revealed the use of a previously unknown System.ini line called MaxBPs=768. This line, inserted into the [386Enh] section, prevents Windows 3.1 from crashing by preventing .VXD drivers from exhausting your break points, which are 10-byte memory structures. (See "Correct most Windows instability with just a single command," Jan. 24, 1994, page 29; "More on establishing Windows break points and other Windows tips," Jan. 31, 1994, page 22; and "Readers report maximum results from Windows MaxBPs," Feb.7, 1994, page 24.)

    I soon received scores of messages from readers who raved that this line alone totally eliminated maddening, inexplicable, random crashes in systems throughout their companies. (If you still use Windows 3.1, insert this line immediately and reboot.)

    The column also triggered a furious memo from His Billness to a Windows program manager. Windows 95 has since eliminated the usefulness of this setting by creating as many break points dynamically as Windows ever needs.

  • Synthetic fonts. My Nov. 2, 1992 (page 25), column was the first to break the news of a technology that would revolutionize fonts. Called Chameleon, it generated new fonts on the fly from a single, basic outline file. Saving a new font to disk consumed only about 4KB of disk space. Developed by Ares Software Corp., in Foster City, Calif., Chameleon soon had competition from other companies, such as Elseware Corp., in Seattle. Synthetic font technology is now widely used in Hewlett-Packard and other brands of printers.

  • Undocumented Windows. I publicized many of the secret programming functions hidden in Windows 3.0 when I pre-announced Undocumented Windows, a book by Andrew Schulman and David Maxey, in my column of Aug. 10, 1992 (page 18). This column led to a front-page InfoWorld article the following week, confirming the hidden features. This led, in turn, to a lengthy white paper from Redmond explaining why Microsoft applications used these functions and why they were unimportant.

    Challenged by editor Stewart Alsop to find out whether these functions were useful or not, I researched a three-page report, published in InfoWorld on Nov. 16, 1992 (page 98). It documented eight examples in which Microsoft applications used undocumented features of Windows or DOS six months to a year before competitors' programs could. Amazingly, this still isn't illegal.

    And now, on to the next 250 columns!

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

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    Copyright © 1996 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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