Operating system archaeology

I received a computer the other day which I was supposed to set up for my kids, mostly for educational software (they're not yet in the ego-shooter age, fortunately). It was a Celeron 366MHz with a 6.8GB hard drive and 64MB of RAM. This was apparently a decent computer at the beginning of this millennium.

I was told not to use some Linux (which would probably run decently on that old box) but to reinstall Win98, as most of the educational software out there (mostly on CD-ROM) requires a Windows box or a Mac. As I wouldn't have to work on that box anyway, I agreed.

The hard drive was still clogged with the previous users' data, and the computer had been connected to the internet previously, so I had a good reason to start from a clean slate. In went the Win98 CD. After rebooting, the system would not allow me to install the OS - because Win98 was already installed. M$ generously suggested to buy a Win98 update CD. There was no option whatsoever to install over the existing OS or to do a fresh install. Out went the CD, and I rebooted into the already installed system. Remembering the trick we'd play on the unsuspecting in the days of yore ("Oh there's something wrong with your computer - just run format C:! Hehe") I opened the DOS console and typed "format C:". I bid a last farewell to the installed system, but it just told me something like: "There are processes which still access drive C: - formatting aborted". Now this was one M$ security feature that worked - when I needed it least.

Linux came to the rescue. I popped in a Debian CD and repartitioned the drive. Now that there were just two Linux partitions, Win98 would finally let me install the OS on the harddrive. The rest of the installation was a piece of cake.

A few things still striked me odd:

- an automatic "registry fixing routine" was praised as a new feature. Translation: It was a horribly bad idea to use a registry for storing configuration data in the first place, but of course we can't admit that. Instead, we use a new faulty piece of software to fix the problems caused by an older faulty piece of software, and everything's gonna be alright.

- the dialog to set the time and date still used two digits for the year - the OS was released one year before 2000 (Win98 second edition). M$ apparently hadn't got far in terms of thinking one year ahead.

- changing the monitor refresh rate from "optimal" to 75Hz greatly improved the visual impression and made the text on the screen readable - surprise surprise.

- needless to say, the installation itself took three reboots. The installation of a printer driver for some old Epson Stylus took another one. The installation of the i810 mainboard drivers and utilities another one. And changing the monitor resolution and refresh rate yet another one. And the scanner software - waitaminute! How come this one didn't require a reboot? Should I reboot just in case? Ok, installation of DirectX 8.1 was back to normal - reboot required.

I just wonder how Win98 users ever got something done between reboots.

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