Until Windows XP was released, I’d always thought that Windows 98 was one of the best versions of Windows ever created. Even so, Windows 98 did have its problems. Among the more difficult problems to troubleshoot were Windows protection errors. In this article, I’ll explain what Windows protection errors are, and I’ll discuss some steps that you can take to resolve them. I’ll then explain the solution to one of the most common types of Windows protection errors, the protection error that results when some types of Zip drives are used with certain types of printers.

The reasons for Windows protection errors
Windows protection errors typically manifest themselves during startup with a message saying, “While Initializing device_name a Windows protection error occurred,” or you may simply see a generic message saying “Windows protection error.” The generic Windows protection error message can occur during system startup or shutdown. So what causes these mysterious error messages?

There are actually quite a few different things that can cause Windows protection errors. According to Microsoft Knowledge Base article number 149962, Windows protection errors can be caused by any of the following conditions:

  • If a real-mode driver and a protected-mode driver are in conflict.
  • If the registry is damaged.
  • If either the Win.com file or the Command.com file are infected with a virus, or if either of the files are damaged.
  • If a protected-mode driver is loaded from the System.ini file and the driver is already initialized.
  • If there is a physical input/output (I/O) address conflict or a RAM address conflict.
  • If there are incorrect complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) settings for a built-in peripheral device (such as cache settings, CPU timing, hard disks, and so on).
  • If the Plug and Play feature of the computer’s basic input/output system (BIOS) isn’t working correctly.
  • If the computer contains a malfunctioning cache or malfunctioning memory.
  • If the computer’s motherboard isn’t working properly.
  • If you installed Microsoft Office 97 and you’re using the Novell Client 32 software.

Common fixes
Now that you know what causes Windows protection errors, the real question is what you can do about them. I recommend beginning the repair process by booting the machine into Safe Mode. If the machine boots correctly in Safe Mode, then your problem is related to a driver file. You can then use the Windows Device Manager to disable all of the devices on your system that aren’t absolutely essential. Reboot the system normally and the system should function correctly. To determine the culprit, reenable one device at a time, rebooting between each. By using the process of elimination, you can determine which device is causing the problem.

If the system boots in Safe Mode but won’t boot in normal mode, regardless of which drivers have been disabled, then the problem is likely software related. For example, in the list above, you can see that a Windows Protection error can occur if Microsoft Office 97 and Novell’s Client 32 for NetWare are installed on the same machine. Therefore, try uninstalling these applications to see if the problem goes away. If the problem goes away, reinstall your applications to see if any one application triggers the error.

If the system still doesn’t boot correctly in Safe Mode, then a driver probably isn’t to blame. You more likely have a corrupted low-level system file, or you might have a virus. Another possibility is a serious hardware problem. In such a case, I recommend reinstalling Windows to see if the problem goes away, and scanning for viruses.

The Iomega issue
If you’ve attached a parallel port version of an Iomega Zip drive to your system, you might suddenly start experiencing Windows protection errors. This particular Windows protection error is caused by the way that the Zip drive attempts to share the machine’s parallel port. When Iomega originally introduced the parallel port based Zip drives, printers that required bi-directional parallel port support either did not exist or were not widely used. Therefore, when you attach a printer that requires bi-directional parallel port support—such as the Hewlett-Packard 4000 and 8000 or the Epson Stylus Color 640—to a Zip drive that was never intended to work with such a printer, Windows doesn’t know how to handle the conflict and thus generates a Windows protection error.

There are a couple of different tricks that you can use to overcome this particular Windows protection error. The first such technique is to disable bi-directional printer support in the machine’s CMOS. The technique for doing so varies from computer to computer, but on a machine with an Intel Pentium 4 motherboard, you must press the F1 key during the early stages of the boot process to load the BIOS Setup Utility. Once this utility loads, select the Peripheral Configuration option from the Advanced menu. Now, locate the Parallel Port option on the Peripheral Configuration screen. You can use this section to change the parallel port’s mode from Bi-Directional to either EPP or ECP. Although there’s an option for Output Only, you don’t want to use this option, because doing so would prevent the Zip drive from functioning correctly.

An alternative fix
Another way that you can fix the problem is to disable bi-directional printing support through Windows rather than through the CMOS. To do so, click the Start button, and then select the Printers command from the Settings menu. When you do, you’ll see the Printers window, which should display an icon for each printer that’s installed on the system. Right-click the icon that represents the printer attached to your system’s parallel port, and then select the Properties command from the resulting shortcut menu. When you do, you’ll see the printer’s properties sheet. Next, select the properties sheet’s Details tab. Finally, select the Disable Bi-Directional Support For This Printer option, and then click OK twice to close all of the open Windows.

Upgrading is the ultimate fix
Finally, the best way to fix a Windows protection error is to simply upgrade the operating system to Windows 2000 or Windows XP. This is obviously the most effective fix because Windows protection errors occur only in Windows 95, 98, and ME. If the problem is related to a conflict between a real-mode and a protected-mode driver, an operating system upgrade will correct the problem because Windows 2000 and XP don’t use real-mode drivers. Upgrading the operating system will likely correct other types of Windows protection errors too, such as those caused by damaged files or by an invalid registry entry.

Keep in mind that upgrading the operating system won’t replace every type of Windows Protection error. For example, errors caused by the CMOS or BIOS are independent of the operating system and will likely cause problems regardless of what operating system the machine is running. While it’s true that Windows protection errors don’t exist in Windows 2000 or XP, you may find that your Windows protection error has been replaced with the Blue Screen of Death.

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