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Upgrading Windows

Microsoft's Windows operating system has been around since the mid-1980s. The first version I tried in about 1985 ran on floppy discs, and was so slow as to be useless. When Windows version 3 was intr...


October 1, 2001
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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Microsoft’s Windows operating system has been around since the mid-1980s. The first version I tried in about 1985 ran on floppy discs, and was so slow as to be useless. When Windows version 3 was introduced in the early 1990s, we tried it, to use the Excel spreadsheet, but found it good enough to keep for general use. Since then, Windows has been successively upgraded through Windows 95, 98 and 2000.

Each successive upgrade of Windows has been a definite improvement over its predecessor, but none have yet been as “rock solid and reliable” as Microsoft and most computer magazine reviews have repeatedly claimed.

Computer users have had to live with their computers “hanging”, or becoming stalled, from time to time. For most of us it happens once every few weeks but the frequency has been declining with the more advanced versions of Windows, despite the ever increasing complexity of hardware and software. I have no reason to believe that Windows XP will be crash proof as claimed in the hype, but it may solve problems for people pestered by frequent crashes.

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The principal advantage in having the most up-to-date version of Windows is that the more recent hardware is supported. With Windows 2000, I can plug in an IEEE 1394 (“firewire”) hard disc, and have rapid access to an external, large hard disc. New hardware is installed automatically in most cases, and Windows 2000 is supposed to automatically download new drivers from the Microsoft site on the Internet, if required.

Most people prefer installing new software when they buy a new computer, which brings us to the best time to upgrade Windows. Unless your computer system managers forbid it, always buy the most recent version of Windows with a new computer. With the XP version due for release, I would not buy a new machine today without it.

If you wish to upgrade to Windows 2000 or to XP and have no experience in doing so with a very similar computer, it could require from 20 minutes to 20 days to have the new version up and running. It is difficult predict how much trouble you will have, if any. Microsoft maintains a list of compatible hardware at www.microsoft.com/hcl, which should help, but working through it will take time.

Many of the hardware vendors support ONLY the operating system sold with the computer, so if you upgrade, you have to find support elsewhere. There is a vast amount of help available on the Internet, from Microsoft and other sites, but searching through it can take days.

I would upgrade the operating system on my computer only if I really needed to make some new device work, and there was no other way. The heavily hyped improvements in each succeeding version are just not worth the risk the serious time loss it takes to upgrade.

We are using Windows 2000 Professional in the newest computer in the office. After solving some ridiculously time consuming set-up problems, we like it.

With a new computer, Windows 2000 was up and running straight out of the box. Internet access by the internal modem was fine. We could see, and access, the other four machines on the network. It only took a couple of hours to configure E-mail software and to copy across several thousand data files from my old computer, including the smoothly automated upgrade for formats for Microsoft Outlook files for the new version.

However, when attempting to access the Win2000 computer from the others on the network, the fun began. We could see the new computer across the network, but could not copy any files from or to it from the Win98 or Win95 machines. Calls to Dell elicited several possible solutions, including reformatting the hard disc and re-installing Win2000. This of course required repeating the installation of Office XP, the computer’s hardware drivers and all my own software. After three re-formats and lots of time on the phone with very polite but inadequately trained Dell support staff, we were in the situation where some “experts” said that Win2000 could not co-exist with the older version, so we should upgrade everything, or, “the problems must be with your cables, other computers, etc, etc.”

Finally, after about 30 hours work spread over a week, and just before returning the new computer for a refund, we hit on a simple solution. While other computers can see all shared drives and printers on Win98 and Win95 computers, simply by clicking on the computer’s icon in Windows Explorer, they cannot see into computers running Win2000. All we had to do was to map the Win2000 hard disc from the other computers and everything works as required. (Click on “tools” then “map network drive” in Windows Explorer.) Problem solved, but the time wasted because the Dell support technicians did not know this simple procedure amounts to a significant extra cost in buying a new computer, to say nothing of the frustration.

Jens Folke is a colleague of Neil McCubbin’s, based in Denmark. He has written this column on occasion.