Taming Windows 95/98/98SE/ME Out of Memory Errors

The symptom: If you install more than 512 MB of RAM in a system running Windows 9x (that’s any version of Windows 95, 98, 98SE, or ME), you get weird out of memory errors.

The culprit is a bug in Windows 9x’s disk cache. The solution is to limit the cache to use 512MB of memory, or less, which is a good thing to do anyway. Here’s how.

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What is Winshock?

So the other day I got blindsided with a question at work: What are we doing about Winshock. Winshock, I asked? I had to go look it up, and I found that’s what they dubbed what I’ve been calling MS14-066, the vulnerability in Schannel, which is Microsoft’s implementation of SSL/TLS for Windows.

Based on that, I’d argue it has more in common with Heartbleed than Shellshock, but I guess “Winshock” is catchier than “Winbleed.”

Then the lead of another team asked me to brief his team on Winshock. I actually managed to anticipate all but three of the questions they asked, too, which was better than I expected. Some of what I shared with them is probably worth sharing further.

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Some tips for trolling fake technical support calls

I did a little more digging after getting yet another fake technical support phone call last week, and I’ve done some thinking on my own. If you want to troll these criminals when they call you, here are some ideas. Read more

Windows 8 comes out later this year, but I won’t be moving just yet

So Windows 8 was released today. I won’t be moving to it anytime soon.

There are some people who make a habit of waiting for Service Pack 1 to be released before upgrading to a new version of Windows. The trouble is, I can think of one instance, Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 1, that was much more problematic than its predecessor. And in more recent years, service packs have become more arbitrary. Knowing that practice exists, Microsoft releases Service Pack 1 based more on uptake than on actual need.

So I have a different rule I follow. Read more

Milestone! I’ve been pirated!

In searching for the abstract of my book, I found more than I expected: What appeared to be a pirated PDF copy of the book in its entirety. What’s worse is that it appeared #1 in Google’s search. Numbers 2 and 3 were various pages on my site, #4 was my Wikipedia profile page, #5 was O’Reilly’s page, and #6 was Amazon’s page. So it’s easier to download a pirated copy of my book than it is to buy it. (It’s $2.03 at Amazon right now. Maybe I should buy some copies.)

I’m having trouble deciding whether that bothers me. The likelihood of me ever making another 25 cents off that book is slim. There was some talk at one time of releasing the book under some kind of Creative Commons license, but I never received the paperwork so I guess they changed their mind. As far as I know, it’s still under copyright.

And the copyright doesn’t belong to me, so ultimately it’s not up to me. I wrote it, but O’Reilly owns the copyright. So I e-mailed O’Reilly to ask them if they care.
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Disadvantages of Windows 98 and 98SE

Many years ago, I wrote about the disadvantages of Windows 3.1 because I started noticing people searching for that. Now, I see people asking the same question about Windows 98. I spent 9 months of my life ripping Windows 98 apart and putting it back together again and writing about it, so I know it well.

As much of an improvement as Windows 98 was over Windows 3.1, it, too, is feeling the effects of time. Windows 98SE was the best of the Windows 9x series (better than its successor, Windows ME), but there are better things to run today.

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A free SSD alignment tool

We’ve talked recently about the importance of aligning your partitions on your SSD or your RAID array. What if I told you you could align an SSD or RAID array for free? Here’s where to find a free SSD alignment tool–it’s just not normally billed as such.

Alignment helps performance, sometimes tremendously, and it also dramatically improves your SSD’s life expectancy. Newer versions of Windows automatically align their partitions, but only if you do a clean installation to an empty drive. Older versions of Windows created their partitions starting at sector 63, for tradition’s sake. Maybe moving off sector 63 made dual-booting with Windows 9x harder.

Two readers, Jim and Xrocode, suggested utilities to do the job. One costs $30 and seems fairly automatic. One is free and requires a small amount of work. Grab the freebie here. It’s a 274 MB download, so it doesn’t even take all that long.

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Registry optimization

I gave my Windows 2000 system a little tuneup today. Nothing major, but it feels peppier now, and didn’t take all that long to do. Nor did it require any expensive utilities.

This works with Windows 2000, XP, NT4, and Vista. For Windows 9x advice, you’ll have to turn to an old critically acclaimed book written by someone you’ve never heard of.First, I ran Ccleaner, which does a general cleanup of temporary files and obsolete/incorrect registry entries. It found more than 300 MB of garbage to get rid of. Be sure to run both the file and registry cleanup, as they’re separate buttons. It found a lot less in the registry that needed to go.

Stage 2 is to run NTregopt. I recommend downloading the all-inclusive collection from Donn Edwards, which includes NTregopt, plus the Sysinternals system file defragmenter and the excellent JK-Defrag. NTregopt packs the registry, removing the empty space formerly occupied by now-deleted entries. In my case, it reduced the size of the registry by about 200K. Not a lot, but I don’t do a lot of installing/uninstalling on this system.

Stage 3 is to run the Sysinternals Pagedefrag, which is included in the Donn Edwards bundle. In my case, most of my registry files were in nice shape, but one of them was in a startling 28 fragments. Pagedefrag took care of that.

Of course, while you’re at it, it doesn’t hurt to do a general defragmentation. JK-Defrag is fantastic–much better than most commercial programs, and it’s free. In my younger days I might do a quick defrag both before and after registry optimization, but one defrag afterward takes less time and should usually suffice.

The registry optimization took about 10 minutes total, including the reboot. The disk defragmentation took another 45 minutes, but there was no need for me to sit and watch that.

The system boots faster now. It also feels peppier, but since the registry wasn’t in horrible shape, I’m guessing the defragmentation did more to help system speed than the registry work. Getting rid of 300 megs of garbage and moving a few gigabytes of rarely used data files to the end of the disk to make room up front for the stuff you do use makes a difference.

The nice thing is that optimization like this used to require a $99 software package, like Norton Utilities or Nuts & Bolts, and both of those packages also installed some junk that really did a lot more harm than good (like Norton Crashguard, which I used to call Norton Crashmaker). I devoted an entire chapter of the aforementioned book to installing and using utilities suites while keeping the problem-causing stuff off your system.

Today, you can download and install two files that do it for free and stay out of your way except when you need them.

Why I generally buy AMD

I was talking to a new coworker today and of course the topic of our first PCs came up. It was Cyrix-based. I didn’t mention my first PC (it seems I’m about four years older–it was an Am486SX2/66).

With only a couple of exceptions, I’ve always bought non-Intel PCs. Most of the Intel PCs I have bought have been used. One boss once went so far as to call me anti-corporate.

I’m not so much anti-corporate as I am pro-competition.I was a second-generation AMD fanboy, not first. When the Am386DX/40 hit town, I was aware it was the best value in the industry, giving better performance than an Intel 486SX/25 for the price of an Intel 386DX/33, but I didn’t really care because I was still an Amiga guy at that point in time.

But that’s the reason I’m an AMD guy today. One of the reasons the computer market is so stagnant today is because it’s dominated by Microsoft. There’s nothing exciting going on there. There hasn’t been anything exciting coming out of Microsoft since the mid 1990s when they had to compete with OS/2. OS/2 never captured a huge amount of market share, but OS/2 promised to be a better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than Windows, and to a large extent it delivered. Say what you want about OS/2, but I could load Tony La Russa Baseball 2 up in a DOS Window under OS/2 and it would run faster than it ran under DOS, even though the game didn’t have the machine’s full attention. OS/2 2.1 (and later 3.0) had Microsoft running scared, because it ran all of the software that was available in the early 1990s and it ran it quickly, in a fully pre-emptive multitasking environment. Microsoft responded with Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 because it had to–Windows 3.1 just couldn’t compete with OS/2’s stability, and booting into DOS using a custom boot disk for every game they wanted to run wasn’t something the public was going to put up with forever.

And what’s happened since then? Windows 98 was basically a service pack, improving the stability of Windows 95 but not offering anything revolutionary. Windows 2000 was a lot better than NT 4.0 but not the kind of jump that Windows 95 was over 3.1. Windows XP did a lot to improve backward compatibility with old DOS and Windows 9x games, and while it was a big leap from Windows 98 or ME, it wasn’t a tremendous improvement over Windows 2000. I haven’t heard anyone say anything good about Vista. At least the Windows 95 box was pretty, but Vista doesn’t really even have that going for it.

Microsoft’s primary competition today is illegal copies of its own operating system, so its main concern with Vista is keeping people from making copies of it. And it shows.

Apple is trying to compete, but its market share is around 10 percent. We don’t exactly have a duopoly.

When I got interested in computers in the 1980s, there was all sorts of interesting stuff going on. IBM and DOS were things you used at work to do accounting. At home we used all these weird and wonderful 8-bit computers that were technically obsolete, but engineers kept figuring out how to squeeze more capability out of them. Revisionist historians talk about Apple dominating the 8-bit era, but that wasn’t true. At its peak, Commodore sold as many C-64s in a single year as Apple sold Apple IIs in that line’s entire lifetime. Although Commodore was the king of sales, Atari arguably had the best 8-bit computer (the 800/XE/XL family). Tandy had its Color Computer line, and while it couldn’t match the graphics and sound capability that Commodore and Atari had, it had a far more powerful CPU. Coleco’s Adam is little more than the butt of a joke today, but on paper it should have done well. Coleco took several chips that Texas Instruments had used in its failed TI-99/4A, paired them up with a more conventional CPU (the popular Zilog Z-80), and made a competitive computer with it. Its biggest problem was that it was late to market and plagued with reliability problems at first. Kind of like Windows Vista.

And that’s the beauty of competition. In the 1980s, if you delivered a product like the Coleco Adam, you went out of business. But if your name is Microsoft and you have 85% of the marketplace, you can deliver something like the Coleco Adam and keep on chugging.

The really exciting stuff in the 1980s wasn’t in the 8-bit arena though. The Motorola 68000-based computers were where the action was. The most famous of these, of course, was the first-generation Macintosh. But the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga used the 68000 too, and unlike the first Macs, they paired the powerful CPU with color and powerful sound. The three companies threw bricks at each other a lot, but they kept each other honest. Apple ended up having to add color and sound and expansion slots to its Macs in order to compete. Commodore designed a low-cost Amiga to compete with Atari, and a higher-priced model with lots of drive bays and expansion slots to compete with Apple.

These three companies, ironically, built the kind of machine Bill Gates tried to get IBM to build in 1981. Gates wanted IBM to use a Motorola 68000, and then they would have used Xenix, Microsoft’s version of Unix, for an operating system.

The result was Microsoft trying to play catch-up. Windows was in development before these machines hit the market, but Microsoft knew the Mac was coming long before it happened. Microsoft had a prototype and was one of the first Mac developers. In typical Microsoft fashion, Microsoft was talking about Windows in 1983, but didn’t deliver anything until 1985, and what they delivered wasn’t useful for very much. It wasn’t until Windows 3.0 came out in 1990 that it hit prime time. By then the code was stable enough that you could use it for a few hours at a time, and PC CPUs were powerful enough that Windows could keep up with an Amiga or ST or Mac without embarrassing itself.

And that was the beginning of the end. It was one thing for Commodore and Atari to compete with 286 clones that could barely run Windows. But within a year or two, they were competing with Tandy 386s that sold for $1,200 at every Radio Shack in the country. Whether you lived in New York City or Buffalo, Missouri, you could walk into Radio Shack and see a computer running Windows and buy it on the spot. Neither Commodore nor Atari had a dealer network anything like that. And if you lived in a big enough city, you could walk into a "superstore" like Best Buy or Circuit City or Silo that were sweeping the nation at the time and buy a Packard Bell for even less.

By 1993, Commodore and Atari were non-factors in the marketplace. It was down to Apple and the PC clones running Windows.

So what does any of this have to do with AMD and Intel?

AMD and Intel keep each other honest. When Intel released the Itanium, AMD countered with its AMD64 architecture. While the Itanium gives better 64-bit performance, AMD64 does a much better job of running the 32-bit applications we all run today. Itanium has a better long-term approach, but it’s designed for a future that will never come on its own because people still want to play their old copy of The Sims and have it run well on their new computer. AMD’s answer for 64-bit computing was AMD64, and its success forced Intel to clone it.

The CPU isn’t as important today because Intel and AMD are making CPUs that have more power than today’s software knows what to do with. But that’s not Intel’s fault, and it’s not AMD’s fault. Microsoft can’t think of a good use for all the power or a way to harness it, and the industry doesn’t have the scrappy underdog companies like Commodore or Atari anymore to figure out a use for them and drive the industry.

But if one company had a total monopoly on CPUs, I’m afraid of what I’d see. Probably Intel would become more like Microsoft, delivering products that ran slower and at a higher price than each previous generation. It’s unnatural, but it’s the norm for a monopoly.

I’ve heard myself saying several times over the last three or four years that I don’t like computers anymore. But that’s not exactly true. Either I don’t like modern computers, or what HP and Dell sell today aren’t computers.

If either Intel or AMD were to succeed in squeezing the other company out of business, the modern computer would become even more underachieving and uninteresting than it is now.

How to defrag when defrag just keeps starting over and over

I’ve seen many spyware-infested Windows 95/98 boxes that just won’t defrag no matter what you do. Defrag starts, gets part of the way through, then the disk changes and it starts over again. Leave the system alone for dozens of hours and it might finish, but probably not.Microsoft has some remedies, starting with hitting ctrl-alt-del and killing everything except explorer and systray, and disabling your quick launch bar (right-click on the gray bar on the bottom of the screen, select Toolbars, and de-select Quick Launch). That can help, but not always.

I’ve also heard of downloading the Windows ME version of Defrag.exe and running that instead of the older version if you’re running an older version of Windows 9x, since Windows ME’s defrag is supposed to work better. I guess that and the USB support were the only things in Windows ME that worked better.

Disabling your antivirus realtime scanning also helps, since it’s always accessing the disk.

But sometimes even doing those things won’t work. The system in my living room is a prime example. It’s clean, has no spyware or anything else but still won’t defrag. I could blow it away and reinstall, but I’m too lazy. For the most part the system works well enough for what I need it to do, so I’d rather not mess with it too much.

One thing you can do is reboot the system into safe mode, and run Defrag from there. The performance won’t be stellar since Windows will be using generic drivers rather than the optimized drivers for your particular computer, but Windows won’t be running anything else special, so the process will be able to finish without interference. Boot in safe mode, give your computer a few hours, and it will at least have a chance to finish.

Another option is to boot off a live CD, such as BartPE, and run JKDefrag on it. This would give you the advantage of a fully 32-bit environment with better drivers than Windows 9x safe mode, so the defragment will finish more quickly.

Defragmenting this way is terribly inconvenient of course, but like I’ve said before, it’s something you don’t have to do very often. Once a year will probably keep your computer running acceptably.

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