What is it: various updates and service packs for Windows 95.
Applications: fixing problems and adding functionality to the original version.
If there are numerous people in your company running Windows 95, you might assume they are all using the same version of the same operating system. But you would probably be wrong. In a process sometimes referred to as dribbleware, Microsoft has been quietly updating the original Windows 95 with a stream of bug fixes, patches, revisions and enhancements.
These updates have been appearing since the end of 1995. Eventually, they will be consolidated into an entirely new release of the operating system. Until then, you can download the various items from Microsoft?s Web site and install them as and when needed.
Unfortunately, it is not always easy to find out what updates are available. Keeping up with the tide of new components is a serious chore. Indeed, it is difficult for system administrators and support staff to be sure of the exact status of the operating software on a given machine.
The best way to find out what?s available is to visit www.microsoft.com/windows/common/contentW95UGA.htm. This page provides an overview of all Windows 95 updates. It also has links to four download areas where you can obtain most, though not all, of the new software.
The first of these areas is for the Windows 95 service packs, of which only one has so far been released. Known as Service Pack 1, or SP 1, this is the most widely distributed Windows 95 upgrade. It appeared in December 1995 and, like most of the other components described here, can be downloaded for free.
SP 1 is essentially a set of bug fixes and patches. It includes new 32-bit OLE components which cure a potential security breach in Office 95 applications. Previously, when you deleted certain types of information from these applications, it remained in the files and could be viewed in other programs. SP 1 fixes this problem.
SP 1 also deals with a security risk in File and Printer Sharing for Netware Networks. It prevents users from gaining unauthorised access to other computers when Remote Administration is enabled.
Other problems addressed by SP 1 include the tendency of some Windows 95 applications to crash when certain 16-bit printer drivers are used, and spurious time-out errors when sending output to an Enhanced Communications Port.
With the service pack it is also easier to install printers which are accessed through Netware Directory Services. These are now visible in the Add Printer wizard.
Although not all users will benefit from this upgrade, it is worth downloading if only to ensure that everyone is working on the same version of Windows. The download is a 1.2Mb self-extracting file, with a separate 37Kb documentation file.
The second download area is for so-called system updates. These are fixes, patches and utilities released after SP 1. This area features about a dozen items, each of which can be downloaded and installed independently.
These updates include completely revised versions of Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Backup. The latter claims to offer substantial performance gains over the original Windows 95.
Microsoft Fax users will find a patch which solves the irritating problem of fax cover sheets going missing. Another download cures a memory leak which occurs when opening and closing sockets in the Windows Sockets API. There is also a solution for a data loss problem which some users experience with multiple partitions on large EIDE drives.
The third set of upgrades is different in that it is not specifically available for downloading. Known as the Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2, or OSR 2, it is supplied to hardware vendors for pre-installing on new PCs. If you have bought a new PC recently, you probably already have this update.
OSR 2?s most important feature is a change to the FAT file system. This can now contain 32-bit entries, along with the old 12-bit and 16-bit entries which were inherited from DOS. This does away with the 2Gb limit on disk partitions, which can now reach a mind-boggling 2 terabytes.
To support the 32-bit FAT, there are new versions of the Fdisk, Format, Scandisk and Defrag utilities. In addition, there?s an updated Drive Space compression driver, which allows compressed volumes of up to 2Gb, although this does not work with the new 32-bit partitions.
Many of the other innovations in OSR 2 support new and emerging hardware. These include bus-mastered IDE drives, 120Mb ?floptical? drives, removable IDE drives, 3.3V PCMCIA Cards, global positioning satellite (GPS) devices, 4Gb CD-ROM drives, wake-on-ring modems, multi-battery PCs, as well as several other innovative devices.
Although all these components are only available in new PCs, the pack also includes another 15 or so items which you can download yourself. These include a copy of Internet Explorer 3.0, as well as some other useful Internet and multimedia tools.
One of these is an Internet connection wizard, which simplifies the job of connecting and signing up to ISPs. Another is Net Meeting, which allows users to communicate via Internet telephony, conferencing, whiteboards and file transfer.
The last of the four download areas is the least exciting. It consists of all the latest drivers ? for printers, video cards, networks, modems, sound cards, keyboards and SCSI adaptors.
If you don?t intend to buy a new PC, you will still be able to enjoy the benefits of OSR 2. Later this year, Microsoft plans to consolidate all the current updates into a new version of Windows. Codenamed Memphis, it is due to be beta tested soon.
Memphis will be a shrink-wrapped retail product. No prices or release dates have been announced, but Microsoft has suggested that a public beta version will eventually be available from its Web site. Until its release, we will have to make do with the dribble of updates currently available.
Verdict: Microsoft?s policy of issuing Windows 95 updates in penny packets can be a real pain for administrators and support staff. On the other hand, it does allow users to obtain the latest components without having to wait for an entirely new release. If you want to be sure of keeping your system up-to-date, visit Microsoft?s Web site.
Contact: Microsoft on 01734 270000 or
Price: free, either by downloading or with a new PC
Verify your version
To find out which version of Windows 95 is installed on your PC, go to Control Panel and double-click on the System icon. The resulting property sheet will show a version number, as follows: 4.00.950 is the original Windows 95; 4.00.950a is the Service Pack 1 upgrade; and 4.00.950b is the OEM Service Release 2.
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