Windows 98 is notorious for consuming system resources by loading lots of unnecessary programs in the background. Sometimes these programs are even installed by other programs without your knowledge. You can tell you have a big problem on your hands when your system seems to be sluggish on a regular basis. Here are the steps you need to take to weed out these unnecessary programs and lighten the OS’s workload.

Task Manager
Your first step in minimizing Windows 98’s workload is to remove the nonessential programs from the Task Manager. Press [Ctrl][Alt][Delete] to bring up the Windows Task Manager. Doing so will list all of the programs that are running on top of Windows 98. Make a list of these programs, and then divide the list into essential and nonessential programs. Delete the nonessential programs. Unless you’re doing something really unique, almost all of the programs will be nonessential.

System Configuration Editor
The next step in this process is to modify the System Configuration Editor. First, select the Run command from the Start menu. Enter the SYSEDIT command at the Run prompt to launch the System Configuration Editor. The System Configuration Editor is divided into several screens, each representing a different file. Begin by looking at the Config.sys file. Windows 98 is designed to function without a Config.sys file. The file is merely included for backward-compatibility purposes. The purpose of Config.sys is to load older 16-bit drivers before Windows loads. As you may know, Windows can control just about any device without a Config.sys entry. The Windows drivers are 32-bit instead of 16-bit. Therefore, it’s best to use Windows drivers whenever possible. While you’re looking at the Config.sys file, you should also remove any FILES= or BUFFERS= lines. Basically, if you determine that nothing in the Config.sys file is essential, then just delete the whole file.

Now, move on to the Autoexec.bat portion of the System Configuration Editor. As with the Config.sys file, Windows 98 is designed to function without an Autoexec.bat file. This file is also merely included for backward-compatibility purposes. The purpose of Autoexec.bat is to run programs at the DOS level before Windows loads. For example, you might run a low-level virus check before loading Windows. Again, delete any lines that aren’t absolutely necessary. If you don’t know what a specific command does, enter the letters REM in front of the command. Doing so will disable the command but allow you to re-enable it easily should you later discover that it was necessary.

Now, move on to the Win.ini file tab. The Win.ini file is left over from Windows 3.x. It’s included for backward compatibility with older Windows programs. Look at the LOAD= and RUN= commands. Normally these lines should be empty. The only time that LOAD= or RUN= should contain anything is if you upgraded from an older version of Windows or if you’re running an older Windows program that requires it. If either of these lines contains a reference to a file, see if you recognize the filename. If the file isn’t essential, remove it. If you’re not sure a file is essential, write down the filename and then remove it. By writing down the filename, you can add it back in at any time, should you discover that it is essential.

Startup program removal
The next place that you need to check for unnecessary programs is the Startup section of your Start menu. Normally, the Startup section is used to launch applications automatically when Windows loads. Until you’ve taken care of your sluggish system problem, I recommend removing everything from the Startup section. This is because some programs leave modules in memory even after you close the program (such is the case when an application has a memory leak). Such modules can often be the cause of various system errors. Therefore, to make sure that you’re running a clean system, remove everything from the Startup section unless for some reason your system is calling a critical system service through Startup. Critical system services are supposed to be launched through the registry, but I’ve seen poorly written programs call them through Startup.

To remove programs from the Startup section, navigate to Start | Settings | Taskbar & Start Menu. When you do, you’ll see the Taskbar Properties sheet. Navigate to the Start Menu Programs tab and click the Advanced button. The resulting screen presents the Start menu in a Windows Explorer-style view. Navigate through the column on the left to Start Menu | Programs | Startup. When you do, you’ll see the programs from the Startup section appear in the column on the right. Select these programs and press the [Delete] key.

Registry time
Now that you’ve taken care of the basic system configuration, it’s time to check the registry for unnecessary programs. Remember to exercise extreme caution when working with the registry as making a mistake can disable your application programs, Windows 98, or both.

To check the registry, select the Run command from the Start menu and enter the REGEDIT command at the Run prompt. When you do, Windows will load the Registry Editor. The column on the left contains a tree that you can navigate through. The actual registry keys that appear under any given point in the registry appear in the column on the right.

Navigate through the registry to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE | Software | Microsoft | Windows | CurrentVersion | Run. When you select this registry location, you’ll usually see several keys in the column to the right. These keys represent programs that run automatically when the system finishes loading Windows. Unlike the StartUp section of the Start menu, these programs are usually lower-level programs related to specific system functions.

The column containing the programs is divided into a couple of sections. You can see the name of the program as it appears in the Task Manager. You can also see the actual command that calls the program. You can use these two pieces of information to figure out what each program does. At this point, remove nonessential programs by selecting them and pressing the [Delete] key. Just remember that when you delete a registry key, the deletion is immediate and permanent. Therefore, it’s a good idea to write down any registry keys that you delete in case you need to add them back later. Also, remember that registry keys are case-sensitive.

Once you’ve weeded through the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE | Software | Microsoft | Windows | CurrentVersion | Run section, there are a couple of other registry sections that could use a quick once-over. The sections listed in the Other registry sections sidebar will usually have very few, if any, entries, but they are worth checking nonetheless.


Ready to boot
Once you’ve made all of these changes, close the Registry Editor and reboot the system. At this point, your system should not still be sluggish. If is, I recommend going to the Microsoft Support Web site and looking for references to your own individual system error.