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Written By: Keith "Farrel" McClellan
Posted: October 4, 1999
A regression took place during the upgrade between Windows 95 and Windows 98. The Windows 98 shell is arguably much less stable than its older, yet still fully featured brother. While the actual kernel of Windows was improved, the shell became even more unstable than the original Windows 3.1 shell. Random crashes are common, to the point where Windows 98 has to be reinstalled nearly twice as often as Windows 95. In some common configurations, the Windows 98 shell will even continuously crash itself! In this article, I will discuss the variety of ways you can stabilize the Windows 98 shell, and for Windows 95 users - or those that remain unsatisfied with the stability and speed of their system - other shell alternatives will also be discussed.
Stabilizing the Windows 98 Shell
This is the easiest way to improve the stability of Windows 98. Begin with installing IE 5.0. This version of Internet Explorer is much more stable and also easier to separate from Windows 98 - not to mention it has a lot of really cool new features. Installing IE 5.0 on top of the Windows 95 shell should not be a problem, but it is better to be safe rather than sorry.
I used to tell you how to do this operation manually, but Shane Brooks has improved his programs so much since the first article that I now find the exercise pointless. This program is called 98Lite and it can be found at 98Lite.net. I personally recommend the PRO version - it only costs 25 dollars and adds a huge number of functions to the already excellent [free] 98Lite software. This program now optimizes and automates EVERY conceivable way of stabilizing the Windows 98 shell, and the PRO version allows the users to even determine which, if any, features from the Windows 98 shell they want to keep!
Here's a list of the things that 98Lite will let you do:
Remove IE from your system
Separate IE from your OS
Change standard Windows features into options you can remove *
Remove the MS HTML engine from Windows 98 entirely (less than 70 Mb. Total) *
Choose which parts of the new Windows 98 shell to keep and which to ditch *
Lay the Win95 shell on Win98 for maximum stability and performance
Install Windows 98 or Win98 SE without IE ever hitting your hard drive *
* - Available only and/or expanded in the PRO version
Impressive huh? The entire program is automated and very easy to use - so I won't go into any further details (unless I get enough requests, anyway). One thing I'd like to mention, however. If you have your autoexec.bat file set to delete your temp directory on reboot, REM out the line before you proceed with using 98Lite.
Exactly what do you get for your trouble?
You might be asking yourself, is it really worth all of this trouble? I mean, hell, if anything goes wrong with this configuration, you may not have a support base any longer (however, Microsoft will continue to support 98Lite installations unless you overlay the Win95 shell over Win98) and you could very well introduce new bugs into Windows 98 using this method. And I'll be honest with you, I ran some 3D and business benchmarks, and there was no substantial performance increase. So what gives? Well, about 2 MB of free RAM space gives. I tested the free memory at bootup for both shells and found that I gained about a 2% increase (+/- 0.5%). On a 96 Mb. RAM system, that equates to just about 2 MB. Not bad. 2 MB is that many fewer disk swapping interruptions while deathmatching, and that many fewer slowdowns when you are running multiple applications at once. And although it didn't dramatically increase performance on a system with a large amount of RAM, on a system with less RAM the speed difference could be dramatic.