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November 25, 1996

More headaches emerge from Win95B, which you can't yet buy

Last week I wrote about Windows 95B, a minor upgrade that Microsoft is distributing through PC manufacturers but isn't selling to end-users. This means you have to buy a whole new PC to get the new revision, which hardly seems worth it. A few problems come along with this revision as well.

The most interesting feature of Win95B, as last week's column discussed, is the 32-bit File Allocation Table, known as FAT-32. This feature saves the average Windows user about 40 percent of a hard drive's space. This space is wasted on current FAT-16 systems, where even a 1-byte file consumes an entire 32KB cluster on a drive. In a related improvement, FAT-32 allows drive letters (partitions) to be larger than 2GB -- theoretically reaching 140 terabytes (140,000GB).

If Microsoft had serious competition in the Intel operating systems market, it would rave about these features and make them available to users as fast as possible. It seems we get a browser from Redmond every few months, but basic improvements to the operating system take forever.

Ironically, some OEMs are saving themselves technical support headaches by shipping systems with Win95B (also known as OSR2, for OEM Service Release 2) with the FAT-32 system disabled. The machines go out the door with the same old wasteful FAT-16 clusters because the new file system is incompatible with disk utilities, defragmenters, etc. Even Microsoft's version of DoubleSpace included with Win95B won't compress FAT-32 drives, although it will recognize them uncompressed.

This presents a thorny problem for corporate sites, which are not capable of obtaining upgrades to FAT-32 unless they buy all new machines with it implemented. Bringing in Win95B machines means that older systems will run some utilities that newer systems cannot.

For example, even Microsoft's own Service Pack 1 doesn't work with Win95B. Service Pack 1 is a "bump revision" that converts the original Win95 to Win95A. It's widely available to end-users, who've read about the great improvements it will add to Windows. (It fixes OLE 32 and the Password function, among other things.) Running Service Pack 1 under Win95B is bad news, according to a warning posted by Microsoft at I haven't been able to determine the exact damage, but it can't be good. If Microsoft's own programs don't check the Windows version they're running under before taking destructive action, how many other companies' install routines won't either?

Microsoft doesn't plan to distribute a utility to upgrade FAT-16 systems to FAT-32 until it releases the Memphis version of Windows -- now slated for this summer. The FDISK program in Win95B will convert a hard drive to FAT-32, while deleting everything on that drive. But that doesn't upgrade a Win95 system to Win95B. To do that, you need a new Kernel32.dll, which contains about 4KB more code than the one in Windows 95, and other support files.

Norton Utilities for Windows and other applications are already available for Win95B. And Version 3.0 of Partition Magic can convert an OSR2 system to FAT-32 and/or back to FAT-16. (For information, call [800] 379-2566 or [801] 226-8977.) But until Microsoft has made its own upgrade (and undo) utility available -- and dealt with the nasty incompatibilities caused by its own software -- I advise you to avoid Win95B.

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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