Are you ready to upgrade to Windows 95?

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player, October 1995

By now, you're probably sick and tired of all the hype surrounding Windows 95. Nevertheless, you may be wanting to move your computer to this operating system. Are you ready?

Before trying, take a little time to prepare your system for the upgrade and save yourself time and frustration later.

-- Do you have enough ram and hard drive space? Windows 95 claims to need a minimum of 4 megs, but performance is so poor on machines with that amount of ram, that I'd suggest you put off upgrading until you have a system with 8 megs or more.

You'll need at least 50 megs of free hard drive space. If that's all you have, you may think about getting a new hard drive-- they're one computer component that has dropped drastically in price. New Windows 95 applications will take up more space than their older equivalents.

There are all sorts of rumours about what sort of CPU you need to run Windows 95-- some people claim it really needs a Pentium or a high-end 486.

Not true.

Windows 95 will run at about the same speed as Windows 3.1 on a 386-DX, if you have at least 8 megs of ram. An 8 meg 386-33 will perform much better than a 486 or Pentium with 4 megs.

-- Run a virus check... some users are finding that they had viruses lurking on their computers, which crash the Win95 installation somewhere around disk 2. Even if you're installing from the CD version, check for viruses first-- Win95 doesn't include a virus check utility, the way DOS 5 or 6 did.

-- Simplify your system. If you're using a Windows shell program, such as Norton Desktop, PC Tools, Dashboard, or some other, go back to Program Manager. (You do this by checking your Windows SYSTEM.INI file for a line starting "SHELL=...", and editing it to read "SHELL=PROGMAN.EXE").

If you are running QEMM in your CONFIG.SYS, go back to the DOS defaults, HIMEM.SYS and EMM386.EXE. You can always go back to using QEMM later, (if you have a recent enough version)... but some of its advanced features, such as Stealth or DOSUP will no longer work. And you may find you no longer need QEMM to run DOS programs, such as games, under Win95.

-- Think about your other hardware. Windows 95 supports more video cards, sound cards, printers, CD-ROM's, and other peripherals, right out of the box, than any other PC operating system... but it doesn't support everything. In many cases, there are simple workarounds-- your sound card may work as if it was a Sound Blaster, your printer may emulate an HP LaserJet model. In other cases, you may be able to run your old DOS or Windows drivers.

Despite this, some peripherals simply don't work with Windows 95-- at least not until the manufacturers come up with Win95 drivers. Win95 doesn't include any scanner drivers. My HP Scanjet 2C scanner, however, works fine with the old DOS drivers. But Microtek scanners don't seem to work-- not even with their old Windows drivers. Similarly, there are no drivers included for digitizing tablets.

Microsoft has published a hardware compatibility-list; it can be obtained from their internet site:, or from other sources.

-- CD or floppy? If you have a CD drive, that's the way to go. It's much quicker and easier to install from a single CD disk than from a dozen or so floppy disks. As well, the CD as a bunch of extras not found on the floppies-- some fluff, like sound schemes, video clips, and promos of other Microsoft products. But also some useful utilities-- LFNBK.EXE for using older backup programs with Win95's long file names, SLIP drivers for the Internet, QuickView to look at data files without opening their applications, and more. And the CD includes the full text of the Win95 Resource Kit-- otherwise a $49 book. The printed documentation that comes in the box can mercifully be described as brief-- if you want any technically-oriented information, you want the Resource Kit.

-- As with most applications, you have a choice of Minimal, Typical, or Custom installation... Custom asks the most questions, but gives the user the most flexibility-- you may want to choose it. Typical is  a safe choice; it doesn't install everything, but you can use the Control Panel to add anything that you later discover you want. (For example, the Typical option doesn't install the files needed to connect to the Internet).

-- If you like, you can choose, during the installation to SAVE SYSTEM SETTINGS. This allows you to get back your former DOS and Windows 3, if you decide Windows 95 is not for you... by simply clicking on the Uninstall option in Control Panel. It really works, but takes an extra 6 megs of drive space... and is only available if you choose this option during setup.

For even more flexibility, if you have a lot of hard drive space, you can keep both your old DOS/WINDOWS and Windows 95, and choose at boot-up which one to run. This could be handy if you suspect that some of your software or hardware will not support Windows 95.

To do this, choose, during setup, to install Windows 95 into a different directory from your current Windows. This has some real advantages, in any case... a 'clean' install avoids junk files and system settings left over from old Windows software, and can improve performance, in some cases, dramatically.

Unfortunately, installing Win95 into a new directory, means you have to reinstall all your software, fonts, etc. This is tedious, but lets you decide whether you really need everything you've accumulated. A good chance for a computer-housecleaning.

Afterwards, you need one more trick to give your system dual-boot capability. The DOS system file, MSDOS.SYS, has gotten a new life under Win95... it's now a text, configuration file, and has a long list of possible settings that can be altered by the user.

As before, this file is hidden, to prevent unauthorized tampering.
You can right click on it in Win 95's Explorer, and choose Properties to change its attributes, or from a DOS prompt, type:


and then open it in a text editor such as Windows Notepad or DOS Edit.

You'll find it resembles a short INI file, with a few sections in [brackets], followed by settings that are either turned on ( =1 ) or off ( =0 ).

Find the section labeled [options] and add a line reading


to enable dual boot. (You can also change the line that currently reads 'BootGui=1' to'BootGui=0' if you want to boot to a DOS prompt instead of all the way to Win95).

From your DOS prompt, type

Use Explorer or the DOS command ATTRIB +H +R +S MSDOS.SYS to rehide MSDOS.SYS... when you reboot, when you see the text message "STARTING WINDOWS 95", if you press F4, you will boot to your old DOS. If you press F8, you'll get a menu with a variety of boot-up choices.

(Don't delete the AUTOEXEC.DOS, CONFIG.DOS, COMMAND.DOS, MSDOS.DOS, and IO.DOS files-- these are the old system files you need to boot to the old DOS. And when you're in your old DOS, don't delete *.W40-- these are your Win 95 equivalents).

-- Let Windows 95 control your swapfile. Many Windows 3.1 users discovered that they could improve performance by using a Permanent Swapfile. But then, most realized that Windows asked for far too big a chunk of their hard drive for this swapfile, and that more wasn't better-- giving Windows 3.1 all that it asked for could actually slow your system down, besides tying up far too much of your hard drive.

Win95 does things differently... it creates a dynamic swapfile, that grows and shrinks as needed. You can change this, and force it to use a fixed-size swapfile, by fiddling with Control Panel's System/Performance settings. Don't do it. Windows 95 is much smarter about this than the older versions-- and in almost all cases, fiddling with its default swapfile hurts performance.

-- Don't use your old DOS or Windows disk utilities after installing Win95. They aren't compatible with the new Long File Names. If you really feel like you MUST run one of these programs, get a copy of the LFNBK.EXE utility first (it's on the Win95 CD, or available for download), and use it to back up the long file names, before running your disk utility. Windows 95 includes usable versions of SCANDISK and DEFRAG (along with a so-so backup program)-- use these instead of older utilities, or upgrade to Win95-compatible versions.

-- Find the Easter Egg. Many programs include some cute, hidden routine, often showing the 'credits'-- who worked on the software. To see the names of the Win95 development team, try this trick:

Right click on an empty spot of your Win95 desktop. A menu will pop up; choose New, and then Folder. A new folder will be created on the desktop, with the name "New Folder" selected, waiting for you to rename it.

Type (exactly as written):

and now, the moment you've all been waiting for

then, right-click on the folder, choose Rename, and rename it:

we proudly present for your viewing pleasure

Right-click again, again choosing Rename, and type:

The Microsoft Windows 95 Product Team!

Double Click on the folder icon to see the animated credits, complete with sound.

Windows 95 is a much more capable operating system than previous versions of DOS and Windows. With the huge amount of software and hardware running, its amazing that it manages to be so compatible with so many systems... still, it isn't perfect. Some care and attention before and during install can help save a lot of grief later.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan