Windows 98 is one of the most complex operating systems ever developed. Due to its complexity, any number of things can cause Windows to fail. For example, a DLL file could be overwritten, or a bad hard drive sector may cause a file to behave incorrectly. Fortunately, Windows 98 includes countless mechanisms that are designed to monitor and preserve the integrity of the operating system automatically. Furthermore, many tools contain user interfaces that allow for manual intervention when it’s necessary. In this Daily Drill Down, I’ll discuss some of these tools.

Dr. Watson
It’s no big secret that Windows 98 is prone to general protection faults and other types of software faults. When such a fault occurs, it can be a nightmare to try to resolve it. That’s where Dr. Watson comes in.

Dr. Watson is a tool that constantly monitors your PC. It records memory information leading up to and slightly after a software fault. Later, you can go back and review the collected information for analysis.

You can load Dr. Watson by selecting the Run command from the Start menu and typing drwatson at the Run prompt. Dr. Watson runs as a minimized application on your system tray. Once Dr. Watson starts running, it monitors the system. If a fault occurs, Dr. Watson takes a snapshot of your system’s memory.

You can double-click on the Dr. Watson icon to launch Dr. Watson and to view the information that it collected. Then, you can use the menu to view more advanced options or to create a log file. If you decide to create a log file, it will be created at this location: \Windows\Drwatson\*.wig.

System File Checker
The System File Checker is a tool that scans the Windows operating system for changed, corrupted, or deleted files. As you probably know, many third-party applications attempt to update various Windows files during installation. These updates may not always be compatible with existing programs. If such a problem occurs, you can use the System File Checker to restore the original Windows file.

To start System File Checker, select the Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Information command from the Start menu. Once the System Information tool loads, select the System File Checker command from the Tools menu.

When the System File Checker finishes loading, select the Scan for Altered Files radio button and click the Start button. The System File Checker will access a file called Default.sfc. This file contains a list of all Windows files. It also contains each file’s date, time, version, and size information. Furthermore, the Default.sfc file contains a CRC number for each file. A CRC number is a cyclic redundancy check number. This number is based on a mathematical formula that’s run against the original file. If this formula produces a different result from the CRC number that’s stored in the file, then you’ll know that the file has been altered.

When the System File Checker encounters a changed file, you’re given three options. You may ignore the file, restore it, or update the Default.sfc file to reflect the file’s current state.

Signature Verification Tool
As you probably know, a buggy device driver can really mess up your system. Fortunately, Microsoft digitally signs all drivers that come with Windows 98, which means that Microsoft has certified that the driver is 100% Windows 98-friendly. Third-party hardware manufacturers also may have their drivers tested and signed by Microsoft. If you’re having problems with your system, one of the first things that you’ll want to know is if you have a buggy driver. You can narrow down the search by checking to see which drivers Microsoft signed.

You can complete this check with the built-in Signature Verification Tool. You can execute this tool by selecting the Run command from the Start menu. When you see the Run prompt, type sigverif and click OK.

Windows takes this concept a step further by allowing you to control what types of drivers are loaded onto your system. Using the System Policy Editor (POLEDIT), you can enforce driver related policies. There are three different levels of driver checks. Level 0 totally ignores digital signatures. Level 1 displays a message that tells you if a driver hasn’t been signed. Level 2 blocks installation of drivers with no digital signatures.

Automatic Skip Driver Agent
One of the best Windows 98 safety features is also one of the least known. As you probably know, trying to initialize hardware that conflicts with another device can lock up or crash your system. The best illustration occurs during the hardware detection phase of Windows 98. The Windows 98 Setup program warns you that hardware detection may cause the system to stop responding.

When Windows 98 loads, it attempts to load all necessary drivers. However, it’s possible that a buggy driver or a hardware conflict can prevent Windows from loading. This is where the Automatic Skip Driver Agent comes in. The Automatic Skip Driver Agent monitors the boot process. If a driver prevents Windows from loading, the Automatic Skip Driver Agent makes note of the situation and disables the driver during the next boot. Now, when you try to reboot Windows, Windows 98 should boot and ignore the buggy driver.

You can correct a malfunctioning driver by going through the Device Manager. You can access the Device Manager by opening Control Panel and double-clicking on the System icon. Select the Device Manager tab when you see the System Properties sheet. Any devices that have been disabled by the Automatic Skip Driver Agent will be denoted by an exclamation point. You can use the Device Manager to associate a different driver with the malfunctioning device.

Windows Update
Another cool Windows 98 feature is the Windows Update button. When you click the Windows Update button on the Start menu, Windows 98 goes to a special Web site and looks for updates to Windows 98, including service packs, device driver updates, and hot fixes.

Although Windows Update is a great way to keep up with the latest code, you sometimes may have an especially touchy system, and you won’t want Windows Update to modify anything that might upset the delicate balance of drivers that you’ve set up so carefully. If this is the case, you can restrict access to Windows Update through the System Policy Editor.

Within the System Policy Editor, you can disable the Windows Update feature, override the Windows Update feature, or redirect Windows Update to a Web site of your own choosing. These options give administrators great flexibility when they’re deciding how Windows should be updated.

Registry Checker
The Registry Checker is a tool that allows you to fix otherwise fatal registry problems. Each day that you boot your PC, the Registry Checker runs in the background. After a successful boot, the Registry Checker creates a compressed backup copy of your system’s Registry. Windows 98 will maintain up to five backup copies of the Registry—one for each of the past five days (or the last five days that you booted your computer).

As I’ve mentioned already, the Registry Checker runs automatically at boot. If Windows 98 won’t boot because of a Registry error, the Registry Checker will restore the last backed up Registry automatically. What happens, however, if there isn’t a backup or if the backup becomes corrupted?

Depending on the severity of the error, you can run the Registry Checker manually through DOS or through Windows 98. To run the Registry Checker through Windows 98, select the Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Information command from the Start menu. When the System Information tool loads, you can launch the Registry Checker by selecting the Registry Checker command from the Tools menu.

When the Registry Checker runs, it will scan the Registry for errors. If the Registry Checker encounters errors within the Registry, it will present you with options for correcting those errors. If the Registry is clean, the Registry Checker will look to see if the Registry has been backed up today. If it hasn’t been backed up, it will tell you so and offer you the chance to back up the Registry.

If the problem is bad enough that Windows won’t boot or that Windows becomes unreliable, you may run the Registry Checker through DOS mode. Reboot your computer. As soon as you see the message “Starting Windows 98,” begin pressing [F8] repetitively, and the Windows 98 Start Up Menu should appear. Selecting the option for Command Prompt Only will cause Windows 98 to process your Config.sys and Autoexec.bat files. Then, your machine will stop booting before the graphical user interface loads, and it will leave you at the command prompt. Here, you may run the Registry Checker by executing the following command: scanreg /fix.

Task Scheduler
A major part of keeping a system running at peak performance is remembering to perform routine maintenance, such as running Scandisk and Defrag. Unfortunately, it’s hard to remember to run these programs. Even if you remember to run them, they are time consuming. The Task Scheduler program allows you to automate these tasks. Therefore, you never have to remember to defragment your hard disk because you can program this task to occur automatically at 3:00 AM—when you’re not using your PC (let’s hope).

Version Conflict Manager
When you install Windows 98, the Windows 98 system files automatically overwrite other files on your hard disk, even if the existing system files are newer. Although this fact may sound frightening, Windows 98 doesn’t delete your existing files. Instead, it places them in the \Windows\Vcm folder. After installation, if your programs don’t work correctly, you can launch the Version Conflict Manager and restore the previous version of critical files.

You can launch the Version Conflict Manager by selecting the Version Conflict Manager command from the System Information program’s Tools menu. Be sure to remember that Version Conflict Manager determines a file’s age by its version number—not by its date.

Maintenance Wizard
Earlier, I mentioned that you could use the Task Scheduler to automate menial tasks. If you don’t know how to set up those tasks, however, the Task Manager might as well not even be there. That’s where the Maintenance Wizard comes in. It makes setting up these tasks painless. You can access the Maintenance Wizard by selecting Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Maintenance Wizard. When the Maintenance Wizard launches, it gives you the opportunity to use either Express Setup or Custom Setup. The Wizard is very simple to use, and it takes all the work out of setting up complex maintenance tasks.

When something goes horribly wrong
So far, I’ve shown you all kinds of tools that are designed to keep Windows functional despite a variety of small problems. Still, some problems may be too large for these tools to handle. If you run into big problems, there are at least two tools that you can resort to using.

Windows Report Tool and DOS Report Tool
The Windows Report Tool is designed to help the technical support staff at Microsoft determine what’s wrong with your PC. It’s one of the best-thought-out features of Windows 98. The Windows Report Tool gathers information from your computer and uses the Web to send this information to Microsoft. What happens if your machine isn’t connected to the Web? You can export the report to a CAB file, which can be stored on a floppy disk and sent from another computer that’s connected to the Web.

If Windows won’t boot, you can use the DOS Report Tool to gather the same information outside of Windows. The DOS Report Tool can send the information, too—as long as you have a modem that uses standard COM ports.

You can access the Windows Report Tool by typing winrep.exe at the Run prompt. Likewise, you can launch the DOS Report Tool by typing dosrep at the command prompt.

Microsoft Backup
Microsoft Backup is a program that’s found on the Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools menu. It allows you to back up and restore your system as a whole or in part. Microsoft Backup can back up your system to a tape drive or to any other storage medium, including floppy, hard disk, Zip disk, or CD-RW. The cool thing about Windows Backup is that it’s capable of backing up and restoring the Registry. (A simple backup via file copy won’t back up the Registry and the critical settings that it contains.)

Talainia Posey learned to handle PCs the old fashioned way: by reading manuals and performing on-the-job troubleshooting. Her experience also includes installing networks for several small companies. When she’s not working on computers, Talainia loves to shop for toys and watch cartoons or to spend time with her cat, Beavis.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.