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Tech 101 | Tech Q&A

'Clean Install' Safest Method to Get Rid of Upgrade

October 26, 2000|DAVE WILSON | Dave Wilson is The Times' personal technology columnist. Submit questions to Tech Q&A at

Q: I recently bought a computer that came preloaded with Windows ME. I thought this was a good thing until I actually started using it. It crashes all the time. How can I get rid of this supposed upgrade?

A: Yikes. The friendly geeks at Q&A labs hope you saved your receipt. This could get ugly.

To avoid any confusion, we need to specify what you're not trying to do here. Recent versions of Microsoft's operating systems come with a handy feature that lets users uninstall an upgrade and go back to the earlier version of the operating system that was once installed on the computer. Because you purchased a system that's only ever had one OS installed on it, that's not an option for you.

We think the safest way to change the OS is to reformat that hard drive and install another operating system, such as Windows 98. This is technically known as a clean install. You need to make sure that you're installing the full version of whatever OS you choose, and not an upgrade, since the upgrade package will look for an older version of itself, not a newer version.

Safest is a relative term, however. There is a very remote, but very real, chance that your box won't perform optimally with Windows 98, or any other existing OS, so you might want to take a crack at fixing what's bugging you before giving up.

New computers often come with lots of installed programs that don't perform any useful function but launch every time you start your system, run in the background and chew up system resources. Turn this stuff off, and you'll see a dramatic improvement in stability and performance.

In addition, you're probably trying to run programs written for earlier versions of Windows. You might try buying a more recent version of the program, or installing patches for both the program and Windows ME as they become available.

And finally, you can consider setting up a dual boot for your box. That will leave Windows ME on the hard drive but give you the option of booting up into another OS as your circumstances dictate. One of the easiest ways for people to do this involves a program made by V Communications Inc. You can download a copy of System Commander 2000 at for about $50. After it's installed on your system, it'll automatically partition the hard drive for you, and then you can install and run pretty much any OS you want, such as Linux or Windows 2000.

Q: Whenever I buy software for my PC it comes packed in a giant box that rarely contains more than the CD-ROM jewel case and a registration card. Why can't software makers follow the lead of video game publishers and scale back the amount of packaging they use? It seems like an awful waste.

A: Mainstream economists like to say that free market forces drive companies to compete most efficiently, which makes life better for consumers. But there is a force more powerful than the free market, more powerful than even the gravitational field around a black hole. This awesome force is known as marketing, and it's what keeps software packages vast, empty spaces instead of tight, efficient, ecologically correct containers.

If you visit a store, you'll usually find that the video games designed to run on specific consoles such as PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast are grouped together by console. The companies that offer software developers licensing agreements to create games for the consoles they make can also dictate the size of the package. This is a little oversimplified, but the console manufacturers don't care whether all the packages are about the same size because their basic goal is to sell a game--any game--for the console.

In contrast, look at the video games designed for computers. Those games come in big boxes, not like those PlayStation titles in compact little jewel cases. That's because, given the opportunity, the game developer wants to catch your eye with an amazing graphic on a big box. A smaller box would tend to get lost on the shelf, overpowered by its more flamboyant neighbors.

There are cost savings associated with smaller packaging; that's why discount software often comes in a jewel box. In general, however, game developers--in fact nearly all software developers--stick with the standard-size box for their stuff because they fear that doing otherwise would cost them sales.

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