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PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | PC FOCUS

Web Sites May Open Door to Windows 98

July 27, 1998|LAWRENCE J. MAGID

According to Microsoft, more than a million PC users had upgraded to Windows 98 as of July 16, just three weeks after it was released. As I said in an earlier review, I've installed it on several machines and have had very few problems. But not everyone has been so fortunate. After my review appeared, I heard from a number of readers with tales of woe about botched installation and, in a few cases, lost data.

Microsoft, in a news release, says that "Windows 98 is currently generating approximately one half the volume of calls compared to Windows 95." While that's progress, it's hardly an indication of a trouble-free upgrade. The transition from Window 95 to Windows 98 was a nightmare for a large number of users.

Though you have to pay for the long-distance call, Microsoft offers 90 days of free telephone support at (425) 635-7222, starting the first time you call in. The service operates between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Pacific time. If you're lucky enough to get past the busy signal, you'll have to go through a series of voicemail menus and type in your 23-digit product registration number, which you can get by right-clicking on the My Computer icon and selecting Properties. If the number contains the letters OEM, that means you got your copy of Windows from your PC maker, in which case Microsoft won't help you. You have to call the PC company.

Microsoft and virtually all PC makers maintain technical support Web sites and encourage users to try the site before calling.

Microsoft has what it calls a "knowledge base" that you can find at http://support.microsoft.com/support (note there is no www). It contains a wealth of information but, of course, it's of no use if you can't start your computer or get on the Internet. It can also be a bit daunting to use and understand. Going to the Web for technical support can be a little like reading a medical journal for answers to health questions. It's a great option, but sometimes it's easier to just ask the doctor.

Having said that, if you are thinking of upgrading to Windows 98, it's a good idea to visit the support area of your PC maker's Web page to see if there are any known issues regarding your model number. If you can't find the answer, then try calling the company's support department.

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Several PC makers have posted warnings on their Web sites about incompatibilities between their machines and certain features of Windows 98. In most cases, the companies provide a software "patch" that you can download from their Web sites or some warnings about limitations and conditions to consider before upgrading.

Dell Computer has an extensive Web page in its support area (http://www.dell.com/support/) where users can look up their model number to determine whether, and under what conditions, the machine can be upgraded. In some cases, Dell suggests that you take certain steps for "optimal performance." With other machines Dell warns that certain functions or devices may not work properly with Windows 98 installed.

Gateway's support area (www.gateway.com/support) also has a Windows 98 upgrade area that provides specific information on known problems such as SoundBlaster sound boards not working properly after a machine "wakes up" from sleep mode. Again, there are usually solutions available such as downloading upgraded drivers from the Gateway Web site. For $99, Gateway will sell you Microsoft's Windows 98 Upgrade CD and throw in the Gateway Upgrade Companion CD that includes drivers and other patches for Gateway machines and add-on devices that come with Gateway computers.

IBM's Web site points out that Windows 98's "FAT32" file format (which gives you more free space and lets you have hard disk volumes greater than 2 gigabytes) can disable the hibernation power management features on some ThinkPad portable PCs. I'm evaluating a ThinkPad 600 that I upgraded to Windows 98 but, after reading the warning, decided not to upgrade to the FAT32 file system. Nevertheless, I still had a problem with the suspend mode, which puts the system into a low-power "sleep" when you close the cover.

To see if I could solve the problem, I called Microsoft's tech support department. The good news was that I got a busy signal only once and was able to get through when I called back an hour later. After providing my registration, I was transferred to a technician who picked up in about three minutes. The bad news is that the advice he gave me not only didn't solve the problem but caused the machine to crash every time I tried to go into suspend mode.

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