Prevent problems

To reduce your need for computer repairs, remember the following tips.

Hot weather

If possible, avoid using the computer in hot weather.

When the room's temperature rises above 93 degrees, the fan inside the computer has trouble cooling the computer sufficiently. Wait until the weather is cooler (such as late at night), or buy an air conditioner, or buy a window fan to put on your desk and aim at the computer, or use the computer for just an hour at a time (so that the computer doesn't have a chance to overheat). Another problem in the summer is electrical brownouts, where air conditioners in your house or community consume so much electricity that not enough voltage gets to your computer.

Transporting your computer

Some parts inside the computer are delicate. Don't bang or shake the computer!

If you need to move the computer to a different location, be gentle! And before moving the computer, make backups: copy everything important from the computer's hard disk onto floppy disks. For example, copy all the documents, database files, and spreadsheets you created, and also copy AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, and COMMAND.COM.

Transporting by hand
If you must move the computer to a different desk or building, be very gentle when you pick up the computer, carry it, and plop it down. Be especially gentle when walking on stairs and through doorways.

Transporting by car
If you're transporting your computer by car, put the computer in the front seat, put a blanket underneath the computer, and drive slowly (especially around curves and over bumps). Do not put the computer in the trunk, since the trunk has the least protection against bumps. If you have the original padded box that the computer came in, put the computer in it, since the box's padding is professionally designed to protect against bumps.

Transporting by air
If you're transporting your computer by air, avoid checking the computer through the baggage department. The baggage handlers will treat the computer as if it were a football, and their "forward pass" will make you pissed.

Instead, try to carry the computer with you on the plane, if the computer's small enough to fit under your seat or in the overhead bin. If the whole computer won't fit, carry as much of the computer as will fit (the keyboard, the monitor, or the system unit?) and check the rest as baggage. If you must check the computer as baggage, use the original padded box that the computer came in, or else find a giant box and put lots and lots and lots of padding material in it. When going through airport security, it's okay to let the security guards X-ray your computer and disks. Do not carry the computer and disks in your hands as you go through the metal detector, since the magnetic field might erase your disks. For best results, just tell the guards you have a computer and disks; instead of running the computer and disks through detection equipment, the guards will inspect your stuff personally. To make sure your computer doesn't contain a bomb, the guards might ask you to unscrew the computer or prove that it actually works. If your computer's a laptop and you need to prove it works, make sure you brought your batteries - and make sure the batteries are fully charged!

Since airport rules about baggage and security continually change, ask your airport for details before taking a trip.

Parking the head
If your computer is ancient (an 8088 or an early-vintage 286), it might have come with a program called SHIPDISK or PARK. That program is not part of DOS; instead, the program comes on a floppy disk called UTILITIES or DIAGNOSTICS.

That program does an activity called parking the head: it moves the hard drive's head to the disk's innermost track, where there's no data. Then if the head accidentally bangs against the disk, it won't scrape off any data.

If your computer came with a SHIPDISK or PARK program, run it before you transport the computer. After your journey, when you turn the computer back on, the head automatically unparks itself and reads whatever data you wish.

If your computer did not come with a SHIPDISK or PARK program, don't worry about it. Modern disk drives park the head automatically whenever you turn the power off. For older disk drives, handling the computer gently is more important than parking the head. In any case, do not borrow a SHIPDISK or PARK program from a friend, since somebody else's program might assume the hard drive has a different number of tracks.

Repair shops use an extra-fancy PARK program: it tests the hard drive, determines how many tracks are on it, and then moves the head to the correct innermost track.

Saving your work

When you're typing lots of info into a word-processing program or spreadsheet, the stuff you've typed is in the computer's RAM. Every ten minutes, copy that info onto the hard disk, by giving the SAVE command. (To learn how to give the SAVE command, read my word-processing and spreadsheet chapters.)

That way, if the computer breaks down (or you make a boo-boo), the hard disk will contain a copy of most of your work, and you'll need to retype at most ten minutes worth.

Don't trust automatic backups
If your word-processor is modern, it has a feature called "automatic timed backup", which makes the computer automatically save your document every 10 minutes. Don't trust that automatic feature! It might be saving your latest error instead of what you want.

For example, if you accidentally wreck part of your document and then automatic timed backup kicks in, you've just replaced your good, saved document by a wrecked one, and the good one is gone forever. Give the SAVE command manually, so that you, not the computer, decides when and what to save.

Split into chapters
If you're using a word-processing program to type a book, split the book into chapters. Make each chapter be a separate file. That way, if something goes wrong with the file, you've lost just one chapter instead of the whole book.

Disk space

Make sure your hard disk isn't full. Make sure your hard disk has at least 2 megabytes of unused space on it

. To find out how much unused space is on your hard disk, say:

That makes the computer list the files in your root directory and also tell you how many bytes are free.

If the number of free bytes is less than 2,000,000, you have less than two megabytes of free space, and you're in a dangerous situation! Erase some files, so that the number of free bytes becomes more than 2,000,000.

If the number of free bytes is less than 2,000,000, some of your programs might act unreliably, because the programmers who wrote those programs were too lazy to check whether the programs would work on a hard disk that's so full. Some of those programs try to create temporary files on your hard disk; but if your hard disk is nearly full, the temporary files won't fit, and so the computer will gripe at you, act nuts, and seem broken.

If possible, erase enough unimportant files from your hard disk so that 5 megabytes are free. That ensures even the biggest temporary files will fit. It also helps DOS act faster, since DOS doesn't have to look so hard to find where your hard disk's free megabytes are.

For Windows to run reasonably fast, at least 10 megabytes should be free, since Windows tries to create lots of temporary files.

Overly fancy software

Avoid buying and using software that adds many lines to your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files. The longer and more complicated your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files are, the greater the chance that something will go wrong with them, and your computer will refuse to boot up. Even if each line in your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT file looks fine, the lines may conflict with each other. Keep your AUTOEXEC.BAT file simple, so that when you turn the computer on, the computer says:
Do not make the computer automatically go into Windows or the DOS shell or a menu. Instead, get in the habit of manually typing "win" to go into Windows, "dosshell" to go into the DOS shell, a command such as "menu" to go into a menu, or a command such as "do wp" to go into Word Perfect (by using the DO.BAT trick I explained on page 130).

If you make the mistake of setting up your computer to automatically go into Windows, and Windows someday stops working properly, the computer won't boot at all. You'll be in a real mess!

Also, if the computer automatically goes into Windows, and you try to use Windows as a menu system to choose which non-Windows software to run, that non-Windows software will run slower and less reliably than if you ran the software directly without going through Windows.

Avoid compression
If possible, avoid using programs such as Stacker, which attempts to squeeze extra megabytes of data onto your hard disk by using compression codes. Although such programs usually work, they're very delicate: if you accidentally erase those programs (or erase or modify the CONFIG.SYS file that mentions them), you won't be able to use any of the data on your hard disk!

Judging from the phone calls I receive, I get the impression that 90% of all the people who use Stacker are happy, and the other 10% lose all their data.

DOS 6 headaches

DOS 6 includes three routines that are dangerously unreliable: Double Space, Smart Drive, and Mem Maker. If you avoid those routines, DOS 6 is reliable; if you use those routines, DOS 6 can get quite nasty, which is why many companies have banned DOS 6!

Double Space Like Stacker, Double Space attempts to squeeze extra megabytes of data onto your hard disk by using compression codes. It has the same headaches.

Smart Drive
To make your hard drive seem faster, the version of Smart Drive included with DOS 6 and Windows 3.1 tries to make RAM imitate your hard disk, so when you tell the computer to write to the hard disk the computer writes to RAM instead, which is faster. It writes to a part of the RAM called the disk cache.

Later, when you don't seem to be using the computer and seem to be just scratching your head wondering what to do next, Smart Drive copies the disk cache's contents to the hard disk. But what if you turn off the computer (or the computer's hardware or software malfunctions) before Smart Drive gets around to copying the disk cache's contents to the hard disk? Then the hard disk will contain less info than it's supposed to. When you restart the computer, Double Space will notice that info is missing from the hard disk; then Double Space will get confused and refuse to operate. Suddenly, your whole hard disk has become useless!

If you ignore my advice and decide to use Smart Drive anyway, get in the habit of waiting 10 seconds before turning your computer off. The 10-second wait makes Smart Drive realize you're doing nothing, so Smart Drive copies the disk cache's contents to the hard disk.

Another problem is that when Smart Drive suddenly decides to burst into action and write to your hard disk, it can interrupt the computer from handling any modem or fax transmissions that are in progress. Also, Smart Drive confuses the typical human, who doesn't understand why the hard-drive light goes on at strange times instead of when the human said to write to the hard disk.

Mem Maker
Mem Maker tries to modify your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files so specific programs get put into specific places in RAM. It works fine - until you buy an extra program that doesn't fit into the RAM-memory scheme created by Mem Maker. Then you must go through the hassle of telling Mem Maker to reanalyze the situation and put the programs into different places instead.

To avoid those hassles, avoid using Double Space, Smart Drive, and Mem Maker. Then DOS 6 works great!

DOS 6.2
In DOS 6.2, Microsoft improved Double Space, Smart Drive, and Mem Maker so that they cause problems less frequently and less severely. Nevertheless, those three routines can still cause the same kinds of problems, and I still recommend avoiding them.

After inventing DOS 6 and 6.2, Microsoft was sued by a company called Stac Electronics , which said Double Space contained routines that Microsoft illegally copied from Stacker. To duck the suit, Microsoft invented DOS 6.21 (which omits Double Space) and then DOS 6.22 (which replaces Double Space by a similar routine called Drv Space (and has the same problems).

Software housecleaning

For about 20 years, I've been giving free help to folks whose computers got messed up. That extensive experience has taught me most computer problems can be solved by software housecleaning: just remove any software routines that distract the computer from what you want to accomplish! If you remove those distractions, the computer can concentrate on accomplishing your goal. The computer's headaches - and yours - will disappear. The computer will run reliably - and faster.

Here's how to do software housecleaning in the three most popular operating-system environments: Windows 95, Windows 3.1, and DOS 6.2.

Windows 95 housecleaning

To make Windows 95 run better, you can use many methods. I'll start with the methods that are the simplest and most foolproof, then progress to the methods that are more advanced and risky. To get free help using these methods and my other tricks (which are more bizarre), phone me anytime at 617-666-2666.

Close whatever is open
Go to Windows 95's main screen, so you see the Start button. If you have the patience, reboot the computer thoroughly, this way: Click Start, then Shut Down, then Yes, then turn the power off. Wait for the computer to quiet down. Then turn the computer back on.

The rebooting helps, though you can skip it if you're in a rush.

Next, get out of any programs you're in (by clicking their X boxes). Close any windows that are open (by clicking their X boxes). Get rid of any buttons next to the Start button (by clicking any such button, then clicking the X box that comes up).

Simplify the display
Find a spot in the screen's middle where there's no icon yet. Right-click there (by using the mouse's right-hand button). From the pull-down menu that appears, left-click the bottom choice (which is "Properties"). You'll see the Display Properties window.

For Pattern, choose "None".
(To do that, look under the word "Pattern". You see a list of choices. Click the top choice, which should be "None". If you don't see "None" as a choice, make that choice appear by clicking the , then click "None".)

For Wallpaper, choose "None"
(by using the same method as for "Pattern").

Click the "Screen Saver" tab (which is at the top of the window). Then for Screen Saver, choose "None". (To do that, click the , then click "None", which should be the top choice. If you don't see "None" as a choice, make that choice appear by clicking the , then click "None".)

Although patterns, wallpaper, and screensavers are cute fun, you should delete them (by choosing "none") because they consume RAM, slow down the computer, distract the computer, distract you, and are unnecessary (since all modern monitors are built well and don't need to be protected by screensavers).

Click the "Appearance" tab. Then for Scheme, choose "Windows Standard". (To do that, click the , then click "Windows Standard", which should be the third-from-bottom choice. If you don't see "Windows Standard" as a choice, make that choice appear by clicking the , then click "Windows Standard".)

Click the "Settings" tab. Then for Color palette, choose "256 Color ". (To do that, click the , then click "256 Color".) That's the choice preferred by most programs. (The "High Color" and "True Color" choices produce better colors but run too slowly and consume too much RAM, so hardly any RAM is left to run the programs you want, and those programs stop working. The "16 Color" choice uses the least RAM, works with even the worst video cards, works even if you have no video driver loaded, and runs the fastest, but 16 colors aren't enough to handle modern graphical programs. That's why nearly everybody using Windows 95 chooses "256 Color".)

For Desktop area, the safest choice is "640 by 480 pixels". That's the choice that's most likely to work. It's also the most pleasant choice if your screen is small (14-inch) or your eyesight is poor, since it makes all the characters appear as big as possible. To choose it, drag the slider to the left (by using the mouse).

Instead of choosing "640 by 480", you can choose higher numbers if your eyes are good and your screen is big and your video card has a reasonably large amount of RAM and your video drivers are correctly installed. For a 15-inch screen, the most appropriate choice is "800 by 600". For a 17-inch screen, the most appropriate choice is "1024 by 768". But if you have a 15-inch or 17-inch screen and the "appropriate choice" doesn't work, drop down to 640 by 480, which always works though it's less pleasant.

Click "OK". If the computer says "The computer will now resize your desktop", press ENTER, then wait for the screen to look different, then immediately click "Yes" (before the image goes away).

Right-click in the screen's middle (where there are no icons). Click "Arrange Icons", then click "by Name".

Check your total RAM
Windows 95 needs 4M of RAM to run at all, 8M of RAM to run reasonably, and 16M of RAM to run fast. If your RAM is less than 16M, the main way you can make Windows 95 run better is to buy more RAM, to get your total up to at least 16M .

To discover your total amount of RAM, right-click the "My Computer" icon, then click "Properties" and read the message on the screen. (When you finish reading it, click its X box.)

Clean up your hard disk
Double-click the Recycle Bin icon. You see the Recycle Bin window, which shows a list of what's in the Recycle Bin. To see the list better, maximize the window (by clicking the box next to its X box). That's the list of files you said to get rid of. Those files are still on your hard disk and consuming the hard disk's space, until you empty the Recycle Bin .

If you're sharing the computer with friends, ask their permission before emptying the Recycle Bin. If you're sure you don't need any of those files anymore, empty the entire Recycle Bin (by clicking "File" then "Empty Recycle Bin"). If you want to erase just some of those files, click the first file you want to erase, then (while holding down the Ctrl key) click each additional file you want to erase, then press the DELETE key then ENTER.

Then close the Recycle Bin window (by clicking its X box).

Next, find out how full your hard disk is. To find out, double-click the "My Computer" icon, then right-click the hard drive's icon (which says "C:"), then click "Properties". You see a pie chart. Make sure the amount of free space (colored red) is at least 30,000,000 bytes and is at least 10% of the disk's total capacity . If your free space is less, you're in danger of having the computer gradually slow down or quit functioning, so you should delete some files.

(To delete a Windows 95 program you're not using, click "Start" then "Settings" then "Control Panel", then double-click "Add/Remove Programs" then the program you want to delete, then follow the instructions on the screen.)

Next, remove any defects from your hard disk's directories. Here's how: while you're looking at the pie chart, click "Tools" then "Check Now". Click "Standard" (unless you have the patience to choose "Thorough", which will make you wait about 20 minutes), then click "Start". That makes the computer run the ScanDisk program , which analyzes your hard disk. While the computer analyzes, choose "Discard" whenever the computer lets you. That makes the computer discard useless files. At the end of the process, click the "Close" box.

Next, run the Defrag program , by clicking "Defragment Now" then "Start". That makes the computer rearrange your hard disk's files, so you can access them faster.

Finally, press ENTER, then close all windows (by clicking their X boxes).

Examine the task list
Here's how to analyze what Windows 95 is doing at any moment: while holding down the Ctrl and Alt keys, tap the DELETE key (just once, not twice). You'll see the Close Program window. In it you see the task lis t. That's a list of all tasks that the computer is running at the moment.

If your computer is "clean" (not distracted by any extraneous tasks), the only tasks that should be on that task list are Explorer and maybe Systray.

Explorer is needed because it gives you the desktop picture. Systray is optional: it creates the sound-volume icon at the screen's bottom-right corner, if your sound card is good enough to have its volume changed by software.

If your task list contains more than just Explorer and Systray, your computer should be pitied, since right now your computer is trying to run all the programs on the task list simultaneously! I've seen too many computers where the task list contains a dozen items: the poor computer is trying to run all those tasks simultaneously and it's amazing the computer hasn't crashed already! (" Crashed " means "stopped working".) The more tasks you have on the list, the more likely that your computer will crash, because each task consumes RAM and confuses the computer by interrupting its attention from the task you wanted to focus on.

Giving a computer a long task list is like giving a juggler too many knives to juggle: he might quit or die.

That's one of the many reasons I hate companies such as Compaq, Packard Bell, and Dell: they put too many routines on the task list . Their customers eventually complain that the computers don't run well and phone me to bail them out. I prefer companies such as Quantex, which keeps the task list short .

I also get annoyed by magazines who tell readers to buy all sorts of fancy routines that are supposed to make your computer "better". Though each routine is fine by itself, when you try to run them all simultaneously they interfere with each other and create crashes.

Although you can end a task by clicking the task's name and then the "End Task" button, that ends the task just temporarily. To end the task permanently, so it won't resurface the next time you boot up the computer, follow some of the strategies listed below....

Empty your StartUp folder
If you click on Start, then Programs, then StartUp (yeah, it's there, keep looking), you'll see what's in the StartUp folder. Each time you start running Windows 95, the computer automatically runs all the programs in the StartUp folder. (That folder is Window 95's equivalent of DOS's AUTOEXEC.BAT file.)

On a clean machine (such as mine), the StartUp folder should be empty (so your task list stays short). Microsoft Office tends to put two items into the StartUp folder ("Microsoft Office Fast Start" and "Microsoft Office Find Fast Indexer"), but if you eliminate those two items Microsoft Office will still run fine.

Here's how to remove items from the StartUp folder....
Right-click the Start button (by using the mouse's right-hand button), then click "Open", then double-click "Programs". You see a list of all folders that are in your Programs menu. (To see the list better, maximize its window.) Double-click "StartUp". You'll see icons for all the programs in the StartUp folder.

To remove a program from the StartUp folder, click that program's icon then press the DELETE key then ENTER. (To remove all programs from the StartUp folder, do this: tap the A key while holding down the Ctrl key, then press the DELETE key then ENTER.)

If you're not sure whether to remove a program from the StartUp folder, go ahead and try it (after consulting with any friends who share your computer). Trying to remove a program from the StartUp folder is an experiment that's safe for three reasons:
"Removing" an icon from the StartUp folder just sends the icon to the Recycle Bin, so you can restore the icon later if you change your mind. (To be extra-safe, tell your friends not to empty the Recycle Bin for several weeks, until you're sure your newly emptied StartUp folder makes you happy.)

The icon you're sending to the Recycle Bin is just a shortcut icon (since it has a bent arrow on it) rather than the program itself.

No items in the StartUp folder are ever needed to start Windows 95. In fact, Windows 95 starts itself up before it bothers to look at the StartUp folder.

When you've finished, close all windows (by clicking their X boxes).

Windows 95 doesn't need a CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT file.

On too many computers, the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files are lengthy messes that waste RAM, make the computer sluggish, and cause memory conflicts. I'll explain how to strip them down, but beware: the stripping process can go hayware, so try this procedure just if you have a free day to experiment....
Click "Start" then "Programs" then "MS-DOS Prompt". If you see a black window, make it fill the whole screen by doing this: while holding down the Alt key, tap the ENTER key. (If you mess up, press Alt with ENTER again.)

Now the whole screen is black (except for white writing on it).

The screen says:

Type "cd \" (and press ENTER afterwards). Now the screen says:
Type "ren autoexec.bat *.a", like this:
C:\>ren autoexec.bat *.a
That makes the computer rename AUTOEXEC.BAT to AUTOEXEC.A , so you no longer have a file named "AUTOEXEC.BAT". (If you change your mind later, you can reverse the renaming by saying "copy autoexec.a *.bat".)

Type "ren config.sys *.a", like this:

C:\>ren config.sys *.a
That makes the computer rename CONFIG.SYS to CONFIG.A, so you no longer have a file named "CONFIG.SYS". (If you change your mind later, you can reverse the renaming by saying "copy config.a *.sys".)

After you've renamed CONFIG.SYS to CONFIG.A, you can make one further improvement, if you have the patience. The improvement consists of typing this -

C:\>copy con config.sys
device=windows\himem.sys /testmem:off
device=windows\emm386.exe ram d=64
then pressing the F6 key (which creates the symbol "^Z") and then ENTER. That creates a 3-line CONFIG.SYS file, which is slightly better than having no CONFIG.SYS at all. The 3-liner increases the available RAM and also creates expanded memory.

You see "C:\>" again. Type "exit" (and press ENTER). You see the Windows 95 desktop screen again (with the Start button and the My Computer icon).

Shut down the computer completely (by clicking "Start" then "Shut Down" then "Yes" then turning the power off). When the computer has quieted down, turn it back on and watch what happens.

Probably Windows 95 will start fine (faster and better!) because of the changes you made to CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT.

Probably your DOS programs will work fine (even your DOS games!) if you start them the way Microsoft recommends: click "Start" then "Programs" then "MS-DOS Prompt"; then if you see just a small black window, enlarge it by pressing Alt with ENTER. If you start DOS that way, the mouse & CD-ROM will work even while you're running DOS software.

Though stripping CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT improves the performance of most computers, your computer might have "special needs". (In the old days, computers having "special needs" were called "handicapped", but I guess that's not politically correct anymore.) For example, most Compaq computers have "special needs". (Here we go again, another slam at Compaq. But Compaq deserves it!) Such computers require some "special needs" lines in CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT.

If Windows refuses to start properly after you've fiddled with CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, change them back. Here's how:
Shut down the computer. (If possible, shut it down gracefully by using the Shut Down menu. If you can't get to the Shut Down menu or it doesn't react properly, just turn the power off.) Then turn the computer back on, but immediately put your finger near the F8 key and watch carefully for the words "Starting Windows 95" to appear. (They appear in white letters, on a black background, just before you see the clouds.) When the words "Starting Windows 95" appear, press the F8 key immediately.

The computer will say "Microsoft Windows 95 Startup Menu". From that menu, choose "Safe mode command prompt only" (by pressing a number such as 7 and then pressing ENTER). The computer will say "C:>". Then you can restore your original CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files by saying:

C:\>copy config.a *.sys
C:\>copy autoexec.a *.bat
Finally, turn the power off, wait for the computer to quiet down, turn the computer back on, and you should be back where you were before you tried this experiment.

Then if you're ambitious, edit CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT more carefully, trying to figure out which lines to keep and which to discard. Read my DOS chapter for further details. You can phone me for help at 617-666-2666.

Another file that affects how Windows 95 boots is WIN.INI. Like CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, this file is slightly dangerous to play with, so try this procedure just if you have a free day to experiment....

Click "Start" then "Run". Then type "win.ini" (and press ENTER). You see a window showing you the many equations that comprise WIN.INI.

Two of those equations should say:

In those "load=" and "run=" equations, typically nothing should come after the equal sign.

Any program mentioned after the equal sign will be loaded and run automatically every time you start Windows. A program should be mentioned after the equal sign just if you really do want to run that program every time you start Windows.

After scribbling a careful note on a sheet of paper about what junk came after the equal sign, delete the unwanted junk (by clicking just after the equal sign and then pressing the DELETE key several times). Or deactivate the entire line by putting a semicolon at the line's beginning, so the two lines begin by saying ";load=" and ";run=".

Then exit from the editor (by clicking its X box and then pressing ENTER).

Shut down the computer completely (by clicking "Start" then "Shut Down" then "Yes" then turning the power off). When the computer has quieted down, turn it back on and watch what happens.

Probably Windows 95 will start fine (faster and better!) because of the changes you made to WIN.INI. If not, revert the WIN.INI file back to its original state. (Phone me at 617-666-2666 if you need any help reverting.)

Windows 3.1 housecleaning

The following comments apply to Windows 3.1 and 3.11.

The best way to make Windows 3.1 (or 3.11) work better is to upgrade to Windows 95. Microsoft tried hard to make Windows 95 fix all of Windows 3.1's problems - and on the whole, Microsoft succeeded! Also, the newest versions of all popular programs require you to buy Windows 95. Internet access is faster, simpler, and more reliable if you buy Windows 95. Also, Windows 95 is technically superior: it does a better job of handling multitasking (many tasks in the RAM simultaneously), new devices (it automatically detects any new hardware you buy), and repairs (it tries to automatically fix itself when anything goes wrong). Many Windows 3.1 headaches arise from incorrect CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files, but Windows 95 doesn't need those files at all!

Windows 95 needs 8M of RAM to run acceptably (16M of RAM to run well). If you have enough RAM, the only disadvantage of Windows 95 is that it takes longer to boot up and shut down. So if possible, upgrade to Windows 95.

If you refuse to upgrade (because you're an old fuddy-duddy), the following tricks will make your old Windows run as well as possible. They're similar to the tricks for making Windows 95 run well.

To make your old Windows run better, you can use many methods. I'll start with the methods that are the simplest and most foolproof, then progress to the methods that are more advanced and risky. To get free help using these methods and my other tricks (which are more bizarre), phone me anytime at 617-666-2666.

Close whatever is open
Go to Windows 3.1's main screen. Make sure the very top of the screen says "Program Manager" and no other windows or programs are open or running.
Here's how:
If another window is open, close it by double-clicking its control box (the white horizontal bar in the window's top left corner).

If a program is running, exit from it by choosing "Exit" from its File menu.

If the words "Program Manager" appear at the top of a window but not at the top of your screen, maximize the window by clicking the (which is in the window's top right corner).

If the words "Program Manager" appear under an icon, click the icon and then click "Maximize".

Make sure the computer takes you seriously.
To do that, click "Options" (which is at the top of the screen, next to the word "File"). You see the Options menu. Make sure a check mark is in front of "Save Settings on Exit" and no check marks are elsewhere in the Options menu. (To add or remove a check mark, click where you want the check mark to be created or destroyed; then click "Options" again to see whether you succeeded. If you forgot to put a check mark in front of "Save Settings on Exit", the computer does not save what you're doing, does not take you seriously, and does not let your fooling around affect future sessions of Windows.)

Make the Options menu go away (by pressing the Esc key).

Simplify the display
Double-click "Main" (which is an icon) then "Control Panel" (so you see the Control Panel window) then "Desktop".

Make the Pattern, Screen Saver, and Wallpaper each be "None". If one of them isn't "None", click the down-arrow at its right, so you see a menu; click "None", which is the menu's top choice, which you might have to scroll up to see.

When Pattern, Screen Saver, and Wallpaper are each "None", click "OK".

Turn off the Print Manager
While you're looking at the Control Panel window, double-click the Printers icon. You'll see the Printers window. At its bottom left corner, you'll see a box labeled "Use Print Manager". If that box has an X in it, eliminate the X (by clicking it), so the computer will not use Print Manager.

Here's why:
Print Manager is well-intentioned software that unfortunately screws up. It tries to help you by playing this trick: whenever you tell the computer to print on paper, Print Manager diverts the request: instead of printing the output directly onto paper, Print Manager prints the output onto your disk instead, then later copies that output from the disk to your printer. So it's a two-step process: output to be printed is sent first to the hard disk, then copied from the hard disk to the printer. As soon as the first part of the process has finished (all the output has reached the hard disk), Print Manager lets you use your keyboard and mouse again, so you can accomplish whatever further computerized tasks you wish, while output is being sent from the disk to the printer. The result is that you can start working on a second task before the first task has finished printing.

But Print Manager screws up, for two reasons....

First, you must have enough room on the disk to hold the output. If your disk is almost full and you then try to print long output (such as a 20-page report or a high-resolution picture containing millions of dots), Print Manager has trouble sending the output to the disk and gives up: your computer crashes (ignores all your keystrokes and mouse strokes) and you must reboot.

The second reason why Print Manager screws up is that your computer probably doesn't have enough RAM to run Print Manager at the same time as other software.

That's why I recommend not using Print Manager in Windows 3.1.

In Windows 95, Print Manager is usually okay, since Windows 95 manages RAM problems better and since most folks using Windows 95 have bought lots of RAM and a huge hard disk.

When you finish eliminating the X from the Use Print Manager box, click "Close".

Then close the Control Panel window. Close the Main window.

Empty your StartUp
folder Double click "StartUp" (which is an icon). You'll see what's in the StartUp folder. Each time you start running Windows, the computer automatically runs all the programs in the StartUp folder.

Typically, the StartUp folder should be empty, so your computer won't be distracted by having to run junk. If your StartUp folder is not empty, you see icons in it. You should probably delete all those icons. Before deleting an icon, try to figure out each icon's purpose, and figure out whether you have a copy of it in another folder besides StartUp. If you have another copy of the icon, or if the icon is for software that you never use, do this:
Click on the icon (just once, not twice), so its name appears in a blue box.

From the File menu, choose Properties. (To do that, click the word "File" at the screen's top left corner, then click the word "Properties".) You'll see info about the file's properties. Onto a sheet of paper, copy that info (the file's Description, Command Line, and Working Directory), so if you change your mind and want the file back, you'll have an easier time reconstructing the file.

Then click OK.

From the File menu, choose Delete. Then press ENTER. The icon will vanish.

When you've finished examining and fiddling with the StartUp folder, close it.

Do DOS housecleaning
If you're using Windows 3.1 or 3.11, the next step is to do DOS housecleaning, which I explain in the next section. (Go ahead, peek at the "DOS housecleaning" section, do what it says, then return here.)

After you've done DOS housecleaning, the next thing to do to improve Windows is to strip WIN.INI. Here's how.

At the C prompt, say "edit windows\win.ini", so your screen looks like this:

C:\>edit windows\win.ini
When you press the ENTER key at the end of that line, your screen will turn blue. (If it doesn't turn blue, recheck your typing, or try saying "dos\edit" instead of "edit".)

On the blue screen, you'll see the many equations that comprise WIN.INI. Two of those equations should say:

In those "load=" and "run=" equations, typically northing should come after the equal sign .

Any program mentioned after the equal sign will be loaded and run automatically every time you start Windows. A program should be mentioned after the equal sign just if you really do want to run that program every time you start Windows.

After scribbling a careful note on a sheet of paper about what junk came after the equal sign, delete the unwanted junk (by clicking just after the equal sign and then pressing the DELETE key several times). Or deactivate the entire line by putting a semicolon at the line's beginning, so the two lines begin by saying ";load=" and ";run=".

Then exit from the editor (by pressing the Alt key, then the F key, then the X key). The computer will say "Loaded file is not saved." Press the ENTER key (which saves the file). Turn off the computer. When the computer has quieted down, turn it back on and watch what happens.

Probably Windows will start fine (faster and better!) because of the changes you made to WIN.INI. If not, revert the WIN.INI file back to its original state. (Phone me at 617-666-2666 if you need any help reverting.)

DOS housecleaning

The following comments apply to MS-DOS 6.2 (or 6.21 or 6.22) on a computer having at least a 386 CPU and at least 2M of RAM.
If you're using an earlier version of MS-DOS, you should upgrade to one of those versions. The upgrade usually costs $50. If you're using MS-DOS 6.0, you can get use a cheaper upgrade called the "MS-DOS 6.2 Step-Up", which costs just $10 from the repair departments of most computer stores. If you refuse to upgrade, read my CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT advice on pages 132-137 to find out how old DOS versions differ.

If you're using a later version of MS-DOS, you must be using Windows 95, so read the "Windows 95 housekeeping" section instead.

If your computer is less than a 386 or has less than 2M of RAM, read my CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT advice on pages 132-137 to find out what to do differently.

Get a standard C prompt
Get to a standard C prompt, so your screen looks like this:

If you're in Windows instead, get to the C prompt by choosing "Exit Windows" from the File menu. If you're in DOS shell, get to the C prompt by pressing the F3 key.

If your C prompt is too short and says just "C>", make it longer by saying "prompt $p$g". If your C prompt is too long and has extra words in it, get rid of the extra words by saying "cd \".

Delete CHK files
At the C prompt, type this:

C:\>del *.chk
That makes the computer delete any files that end in ".CHK".

Here's why:
Any file that ends in ".CHK" was created by using "chkdsk" or "scandisk". That file is just a "lost chain" (fragment of a discarded file). It's useless. It just wastes space on your hard disk. It should be deleted.

Delete temporary files
Type the word "set", like this:

You'll see several equations. One of the equations probably begins by saying "SET TEMP=C:\". That equation tells which directory contains your temporary files.

All temporarily files should have been deleted by the computer; but sometimes the computer forgets to delete them. Delete them yourself, manually. Here's how:
What the TEMP equation saysWhat to type
SET TEMP=C:\TEMPC:\>del temp
SET TEMP=C:\WINDOWS\TEMPC:\>del windows\temp
SET TEMP=C:\PBTOOLS\WINTEMPC:\>del pbtools\wintemp
SET TEMP=C:\DOSC:\>del dos\*.tmp
C:\>del dos\~*.*
C:\>md temp
SET TEMP=C:\WINDOWS C:\>del windows\*.tmp
C:\>del windows\~*.*
C:\>md temp

When typing those lines, type carefully. If you make a mistake, you'll delete files that are important.

To type the symbol "~", hold down the SHIFT key while tapping the key that's typically next to the number 1. If you have questions about how to type, phone me at 617-666-2666 for help.

If the computer asks "Are you sure?", press the Y key then ENTER. If the computer says "file not found", there were no temporarily files to delete.

Make copies
Make copies of CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT (to protect yourself in case you screw up), by typing this:

C:\>copy config.sys *.a
C:\>copy autoexec.bat *.a
While typing those lines, make sure you put the spaces, asterisks, and periods in the right places, and make sure you type the "c" at the end of "autoexec".

Those lines make copies of CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT. The copies are called CONFIG.A and AUTOEXEC.A and are stored on your hard disk.

Edit CONFIG.SYS by typing this:

C:\>edit config.sys
The screen should turn blue. (If it remains black and says "bad command or file name", the computer doesn't understand "edit". To get around that problem, try typing "dos\edit" instead of just "edit".)

On the blue screen, you'll see your current version of CONFIG.SYS. A standard CONFIG.SYS looks like this:

device=dos\himem.sys /testmem:off
device=dos\emm386.exe ram d=64
If you have a CD-ROM drive, you need an extra line at the bottom . The extra line should begin by saying "devicehigh=" and should also have a "/d:" in it. It usually also has the letters "cd" buried in it somewhere, perhaps as part of an longer word. The line's exact details depend on which brand of CD-ROM drive you have - and also on what kind of motherboard and sound card you're attaching it to. If the line begins with "device=", change it to "devicehigh=".

Some CD-ROM drives require you to put one or two extra "helper" lines before the CD-ROM drive line. Those "helper" lines mention the same subdirectory (folder) as the CD-ROM drive line. Those lines should begin by saying "devicehigh=". (If they say "device=" instead, change them to "devicehigh=".)

Except for the line about the CD-ROM drive, your CONFIG.SYS file should typically consist of just the 6 lines I listed above.

For example, if you have a line saying "stacks=9,256", change it to "stacks=0,0". Making that change will gain you 21/8K of conventional RAM.

In the line about "files", the number should be at least 50 . A few programs require more than 50. If the number is less than 50, raise it to 50. If the number is more than 50, leave it alone; don't bother fiddling with it.

If you have a line saying "dos=high" and a line saying "dos=umb", combine them into a line saying "dos=high,umb".

Typically, the buffers line should say "buffers=40". If you're using a program called "smartdrv" (which is pronounced "smart drive"), buffers should be 15 instead. Normally I recommend avoiding smartdrv (because it consumes too much RAM and occasionally destroys your files); but if your drive is compressed (a dangerous activity that I don't recommend), you must use smartdrv (to help it run fast) and set buffers to 15.

The only lines that should begin with "device=" are typically the lines about himem.sys and emm386.exe . (Some hard drives need a third "device=" line to handle the "disk manager".) Any other "device=" line should typically be changed to "devicehigh=" (to make sure the device driver is loaded into upper memory, to free up your conventional memory.)

If a line begins with "devicehigh", make sure nothing comes between that word and the equal sign. Delete anything coming between "devicehigh" and the equal sign. For example, if a line's start is "devicehigh /L:1,30; 3:30=", shorten that start to "devicehigh=". (The "/L" and other numbers between the "devicehigh" and the equal sign were put there by the memmaker program, which tries to improve RAM usage by forcing the computer to load software into specific addresses; but those specific addresses usually conflict with other addresses and make your software crash. Never use memmaker: it's the most counterproductive utility that Microsoft ever created. If you do what I say, your RAM usage will be better than memmaker's attempt.)

If a line mentions "qemm", you should typically delete the line (since "qemm" is a memmaker competitor that causes as many conflicts as memmaker). But if the qemm line mentions "c:" twice, keep the second "c:" reference (and delete the first "c:" reference, which mentions "qemm"). Make the line begin by saying "devicehigh=c:"

More comments about CONFIG.SYS are on pages 132-134 . Advice about using the editor is on pages 128-129.

When you finish editing CONFIG.SYS, exit from the editor (by pressing the Alt key, then the F key, then the X key). The computer will say "Loaded file is not saved." Press the ENTER key (which saves the file).

Edit AUTOEXEC.BAT by typing this:

C:\edit autoexec.bat
The screen should turn blue. (If it remains black and says "bad command or file name", the computer doesn't understand "edit". To get around that problem, try typing "dos\edit" instead of just "edit".)

On the blue screen, you'll see your current version of AUTOEXEC.BAT.

AUTOEXEC.BAT's top line should say:

@echo off
If that line is elsewhere, move it to the top. Here's how: move to that line by using the down-arrow key, then press Ctrl with Y (which yanks the line from its old position), then move up the beginning of the first line, then press Shift with INSERT (which inserts the line where desired).

Fix the other lines in AUTOEXEC.BAT by reading the info on pages 135-137. Just as you did in CONFIG.SYS, remove any junk that was inserted by memmaker or qemm.

When you've finished editing AUTOEXEC.BAT, exit from the editor (by pressing Alt then F then X then ENTER).

After you've edited CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, your changes don't take effect until you reboot. So to find out whether your editing was successful, reboot! (To do that, turn off the computer, then wait for it to become quiet, then turn the computer back on again.)

If you have any trouble rebooting, use this trick to reboot:

Reboot the computer again, but when the computer says "Starting MS-DOS" immediately press
the F5 key. You'll be at a C prompt. Then try again to edit CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT.
If you wish to return to your original CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, type this:
C:\>copy config.a *.sys
C:\>copy autoexec.a *.bat
After making CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT the way you wish, reboot again.
After you've rebooted successfully, try running your favorite programs, to make sure they still work okay.

Probably, they'll work better! If they have trouble working, edit again or phone me at 617-666-2666 for advanced tricks.

Strategies for repair

Here are the general principles you need to know, to repair a computer.


Ask for help .
Instead of wasting many hours scratching your head about a computer problem, get help from your dealer, your computer's manufacturer, your software's publisher, your colleagues, your teachers, your friends, and me. You can phone me day or night, 24 hours, at 617-666-2666; I'm almost always in, and I sleep only lightly.

Most computers come with a one-year warranty. If your computer gives you trouble during that first year, make use of the warranty: get the free help you're entitled to from your dealer. If your "dealer" is a general-purpose department store that doesn't specialize in computers, the store might tell you to phone the computer's manufacturer.

For tough software questions, the dealer might tell you to phone the software's publisher.

Most computers come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. If the computer is giving you lots of headaches during the first 30 days, just return it!


If the broken part is cheap, don't fix it: chuck it!
For example, if one of the keys on your keyboard stops working, don't bother trying to fix that key; instead, buy a new keyboard. A new keyboard costs just $35. Fixing one key on a keyboard costs many hours of labor and is silly.

If a 10-megabyte hard disk stops working, and you can't fix the problem in an hour or so, just give up and buy a new hard disk, since 10-megabyte hard disks are obsolete anyway. Today, 10 megabytes aren't worth much; the price difference between a 30-megabyte drive and a 40-megabyte drive is about $10.


Read the screen .
Often, the screen will display an error message that tells you what the problem is.

If the message flashes on the screen too briefly for you to read, try pressing the computer's PAUSE key as soon as the message appears. The PAUSE key makes the message stay on the screen for you to read. When you finish reading the message, press the ENTER key.

If you're having trouble with your printer, and your printer is modern enough to have a built-in screen, read the messages on that screen too.

Check the lights .
Look at the blinking lights on the front of the computer and the front of the printer; see if the correct ones are glowing. Also notice whether the monitor's POWER light is glowing.

Check the switches .
Check the ON-OFF switches for the computer, monitor, and printer: make sure they're all flipped on. If your computer equipment is plugged into a power strip, make sure the strip's ON-OFF switch is turned on.

Check the monitor's brightness and contrast knobs, to make sure they're turned to the normal (middle) position.

If you have a dot-matrix printer, make sure the paper is feeding correctly, and make sure you've put into the correct position the lever that lets you choose between tractor feed and friction feed.

Check the cables that run out of the computer .
They run to the monitor, printer, keyboard, mouse, and wall. Make sure they're all plugged tightly into their sockets. To make sure they're plugged in tight, unplug them and then plug them back in again. (To be safe, turn the computer equipment off before fiddling with the cables.) Many monitor and printer problems are caused just by loose cables.

Make sure each cable is plugged into the correct socket. Examine the back of your computer, printer, monitor, and modem: if you see two sockets that look identical, try plugging the cable into the other socket. For example, the cable from your printer might fit into two identical sockets at the back of the computer (LPT1 and LPT2); the cable from your phone system might fit into two identical sockets at the back of your modem (LINE and PHONE); the cable from your monitor might fit into two identical sockets at the back of the computer (COLOR and MONOCHROME).


When analyzing a hardware problem, run no software except DOS and diagnostics . For example, if you're experiencing a problem while using a word-processing program, spreadsheet, database, game, Windows, or some other software, exit from whatever software you're in. Then turn off your printer, computer, and all your other equipment, so the RAM chips inside each device get erased and forget that software.

Then turn the computer back on. Try to make the screen say:

If you succeed, your screen is working fine.

Then say "dir". If that makes the computer show you a directory of all the files in your hard disk's root directory, your hard disk is working fine.

Then turn on the printer and say "dir>prn". If that makes the computer copy the directory onto paper, your printer's working fine. (On some laser printers, such as the Hewlett Packard Laserjet 2, you need to manually eject the paper: press the printer's ON LINE button, then the FORM FEED button, then the ON LINE button again.)

If your computer, monitor, hard drive, and printer pass all those tests, your hardware is basically fine; and so the problem you were having was probably caused by software rather than hardware. For example, maybe you forgot to tell your software what kind of printer and monitor you bought.

If you wish to test your hardware more thoroughly, you can give additional DOS commands. Better yet, run diagnostic software such as Check I t and Norton Disk Doctor . They test your computer and tell you what's wrong. To get Norton Disk Doctor, buy either the software collection called Norton Utilities or the software collection called Norton Desktop for DOS . The newest version of Norton Utilities, which is version 7, also includes diagnostic routines for checking your motherboard and other parts of your computer.

Booting problems

Turning the computer on is called booting. When you turn the computer on, you might immediately experience one of these problems.

Lots of beeping

When you turn the computer on, you just hear a very long beep or very many little beeps.

The fault probably lies in your motherboard or power supply (AC/DC transformer). For example, the motherboard's circuitry might have a short or a break, or one of the chips might have become defective.

Turn the computer off immediately, and take it in to a repair shop.

No video

When you turn the computer on, the screen is entirely blank, so you don't even see the cursor.

The fault probably lies in your monitor or its cables.

Make sure the monitor is turned on, its contrast and brightness knobs are turned up, and its two cables (to the power and to the computer's video card) are both plugged in tight. (Those cables can easily come loose.) If the monitor has a power-on light, check whether that light is glowing. If it doesn't glow, the monitor isn't getting any power (because the on-off button is in the wrong position, or the power cable is loose, or the monitor is broken). If the monitor is indeed broken, do not open the monitor, which contains high voltages even when turned off; instead, return the monitor to your dealer.

If you've fiddled with the knobs and cables and the power-on light is glowing but the screen is still blank, boot up the computer again, and look at the screen carefully: maybe a message did flash on the screen quickly?
If a message did appear, fix whatever problem the message talks about. (If the message was too fast for you to read, boot up again and quickly hit the PAUSE key as soon as the message appears, then press ENTER when you finish reading the message.) If the message appears but does not mention a problem, you're in the middle of a program that has crashed (stopped working), so the fault lies in software mentioned in CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT or COMMAND.COM or some other software involved in booting; to explore further, put a DOS disk in drive A and reboot.

If absolutely no message appears on the screen during the booting process, so that the screen is entirely blank, check the lights on the computer (maybe the computer is turned off or broken) and recheck the cables that go to the monitor. If you still have no luck, the fault is probably in the video card inside the computer, though it might be on the motherboard or in the middle of the video cable that goes from the video card to the monitor. At this point, before you run out and buy new hardware, try swapping with a friend whose computer has the same kind of video as yours (for example, you both have VGA): try swapping monitors, then video cables, then video cards, while making notes about which combinations work, until you finally discover which piece of hardware is causing the failure. Then replace that hardware, and you're done!


When you turn the computer on, the computer gripes by printing a message such as "Invalid configuration specification: run SETUP."

Your computer's CPU is fast. It's a 286, 386, 486, or Pentium. It's not an 8088.

Each fast computer contains a battery that feeds power to the CMOS RAM. That CMOS RAM tries to keep track of the date, time, how many megabytes of RAM you've bought, how you want the RAM used, what kind of video you bought, and what kind of disk drives you bought.

If the information in the CMOS RAM is wrong, the computer usually gripes during bootup by printing a message such as, "Invalid configuration specification: run SETUP."

Try running the CMOS SETUP program, which asks you questions and then stores your answers to the CMOS RAM. To find out how to run that program, ask your dealer.

If your computer's CPU is an old 286, the CMOS SETUP program comes on a floppy disk. That disk is not in the set of MS-DOS disks; instead, the CMOS SETUP program comes on a separate utility disk.

If your computer is a newer 286 or a 386 or 486, the CMOS SETUP program does not come on a floppy disk. Instead, the CMOS SETUP program hides in a ROM chip inside your computer and is run when you hit a "special key" during the bootup's RAM test. That "special key" is usually either the DELETE key or the Esc key or the F1 key; to find out what the "special key" is on your computer, read your computer's manual or ask your dealer.

Once the CMOS SETUP program starts running, it asks you lots of questions. For each question, it also shows you what it guesses the answer is. (The computer's guesses are based on what information the computer was fed before.)

On a sheet of paper, jot down what the computer's guesses are. That sheet of paper will turn out to be very useful!

Some of those questions are easy to answer (such as the date and time).

A harder question is when the computer asks you to input your hard-drive type number. The answer is a code number from 1 to 47, which you must get from your dealer. (If your dealer doesn't know the answer, phone the computer's manufacturer. If the manufacturer doesn't know the answer, look inside the computer at the hard drive; stamped on the drive, you'll see the drive's manufacturer and model number; then phone the drive's manufacturer, tell the manufacturer which model number you bought, and ask for the corresponding hard-drive type number.) If the answer is 47, the computer then asks you technical questions about your drive; get the answers from your dealer (or drive's manufacturer).

If you don't know how to answer a question and can't reach your dealer for help, just move ahead to the next question. Leave intact the answer that the computer guessed.

After you've finished the questionnaire, the computer will automatically reboot. If the computer gripes again, either you answered the questions wrong or else the battery ran out - so that the computer forgot your answers!

In fact, the most popular reason why the computer asks you to run the CMOS SETUP program is that the battery ran out. (The battery usually lasts 1-4 years.) To solve the problem, first make sure you've jotted down the computer's guesses, then replace the battery, which is usually just to the left of the big power supply inside the computer. If you're lucky, the "battery" is actually a bunch of four AA flashlight batteries that you can buy in any hardware store. If you're unlucky, the battery is a round silver disk, made of lithium, like the battery in a digital watch: to get a replacement, see your dealer.

After replacing the battery, run the CMOS SETUP program again, and feed it the data that you jotted down.

That's the procedure. If you're ambitious, try it. If you're a beginner, save yourself the agony by just taking the whole computer to your dealer: let the dealer diddle with the CMOS SETUP program and batteries for you.

Whenever you upgrade your computer with a better disk drive or video card or extra RAM, you must run the CMOS SETUP program again to tell the computer what you bought.

In many computers, the ROM BIOS chip is designed by American Megatrends Inc. (AMI). AMI's design is called the AMIBIOS (pronounced "Amy buy us"). Here's how to use the 4/4/93 version of AMIBIOS. (Other versions are similar.)

When you turn the computer on, the screen briefly shows this message:

AMIBIOS (C)1993 American Megatrends Inc.
000000 KB OK
Hit  if you want to run SETUP
Then the number "000000 KB" increases, as the computer checks your RAM chips. While that number increases, try pressing your keyboard's DEL or DELETE key.

That makes the computer run the AMIBIOS CMOS SETUP program. The top of the screen will say:

Underneath, you'll see this main menu:
                     STANDARD CMOS SETUP
                     ADVANCED CMOS SETUP
                   ADVANCED CHIPSET SETUP
                       CHANGE PASSWORD
                    AUTO DETECT HARD DISK
                      HARD DISK UTILITY
                   WRITE TO CMOS AND EXIT

The first and most popular choice, "STANDARD CMOS SETUP", is highlighted. Choose it (by pressing ENTER).

The computer will warn you by saying:

        Improper use of Setup may cause problems!!!
Press ENTER again.

The computer will show you the info stored in the CMOS about the date, time, base memory, extended memory, hard drives, floppy drives, video card, and keyboard.

If that stored info is wrong, fix it! Here's how....

By using the arrow keys on the keyboard, move the white box to the info that you want to fix. (Exception: you can't move the white box to the "base memory" or "extended memory".) Then change that info, by pressing the keyboard's PAGE UP or PAGE DOWN key several times, until the info is what you wish.

When you've finished examining and fixing that info, press the Esc key. You'll see the main menu again.

When you've finished using the main menu, you have two choices:

If you're unsure of yourself and wish you hadn't fiddled with the SETUP program, just turn off the
computer's power! All your fiddling will be ignored, and the computer will act the same as before
you fiddled.

On the other hand, if you're sure of yourself and want the computer to take your fiddling
seriously, press the F10 key then Y then ENTER. The computer will copy your desires to the
CMOS and reboot.

Non-system disk

The computer says
"Non-system disk or disk error"

The computer is having trouble finding the hidden system files. (If you're using MS-DOS, the hidden system files are called IO.SYS and MSDOS.SYS. If you're using PC-DOS instead, the hidden system files are called IBMIO.COM and IBMDOS.COM.)

Those hidden system files are supposed to be on your hard disk. One reason why you might get that error message is that those hidden system files are missing from your hard disk - because that disk is new and hasn't been formatted yet, or because when you formatted the disk you forgot to say "/s" at the end of the format command, or because you accidentally erased those files.

A more common reason for getting that error message is: you accidentally put a floppy disk into drive A! When the computer boots, it looks at that floppy disk instead of your hard disk, and gripes because it can't find those system files on your floppy disk.

Remove any disk from drive A. Turn the computer off, wait until the computer quiets down, then turn the computer back on.

If the computer still says "Non-system disk or disk error", find the floppy disks that DOS came on and try again to install DOS onto your hard disk.

Command interpreter

The computer says
Bad or missing command interpreter

The computer is having trouble finding and using your COMMAND.COM file. That file is supposed to be in your hard disk's root directory - unless your CONFIG.SYS file contains a "shell=" line that tells the computer to look elsewhere.

Probably you accidentally erased COMMAND.COM, or accidentally fiddled with your CONFIG.SYS file, or accidentally put a floppy disk in drive A (which makes the computer look for COMMAND.COM on your floppy disk instead of your hard disk), or your COMMAND.COM file came from a different version of DOS than your hidden files.

Remove any disk from drive A, then try again to boot. If you get the same error, put into drive A the main floppy disk that DOS came on, and reboot again. (Make sure you use the original DOS floppy, not a copy. Make sure you use the same version of DOS as before; don't switch versions. If you're using DOS 4, insert the disk labeled "install". If you're using DOS 5 or 6, insert the disk lableled "setup". If a disk is labeled "DOS 5 Upgrade" instead of just "DOS 5", that disk isn't bootable; buy or borrow a disk labeled "DOS 5 - Setup".) Then try to copy DOS onto your hard disk again.

If you had accidentally erased COMMAND.COM from your hard disk, you probably also erased CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, and you may need to reconstruct those files.


The computer says, "Warning - SHARE should be loaded for large media".

You're using DOS 4, and it's installed incorrectly.

Your best bet is to upgrade to DOS 5 or 6, which will make that message go away.

If you refuse to upgrade, here's another way to make sure that message disappears: put the SHARE.EXE program into your hard disk's root directory and also your hard disk's DOS directory.

(The SHARE.EXE program comes on the original DOS 4 floppy disks and is probably already in your hard disk's DOS directory. To copy it to the root directory, just give the copy command.)

Keyboard problems

Your keyboard might seem broken. Here's what to do.

Wet keyboard

You recently spilled water, coffee, soda, or some other drink into the keyboard, and now the computer refuses to react properly to your keyboard.

The liquid in the keyboard is causing an electrical short-circuit.

Turn off the computer. Turn the keyboard upside-down for a few minutes, in the hope that some of the liquid drips out. Then let the keyboard rest a few hours, until the remaining liquid in it dries. Try again to use the keyboard. It will probably work fine. If not, look for one of the symptoms below.

Dead keyboard

When you press letters on the keyboard, those letters do not appear on the screen.

Either the keyboard is improperly hooked up, or the computer is overheating, or you're running a frustrated program (which is ignoring what you type or waiting until a special event happens). For example, the program might be waiting for the printer to print, or the disk drive to manipulate a file, or the CPU to finish a computation, or your finger to hit a special key or give a special command.

First, try getting out of any program you've been running: press the Esc key (which might let you escape from the program) or the F1 key (which might display a helpful message) or ENTER (which might move on to the next screenful of information) or Ctrl with C (which might abort the program) or Ctrl with Break. If the screen is unchanged and the computer still ignores your typing, reboot the computer; then watch the screen for error messages such as "301" (which means a defective keyboard), "201" (which means defective RAM chips), or "1701" (which means a defective hard drive).

If the keyboard seems to be "defective", it might just be unplugged from the computer. Make sure the cable from the keyboard is plugged tightly into the computer. To make sure it's tight, unplug it and then plug it back in again.

If you stand behind the original IBM PC (instead of a newer computer), you'll see two sockets that look identical. The left one (which usually has the word "Keyboard" and a "K" next to it) is for the keyboard cable; the other is for a cassette tape recorder (which nobody uses).

Underneath a keyboard built by a clone company, you might see a switch marked "XT - AT" (or simply "X - A"). Put that switch in the XT (or X) position if your computer is an IBM XT (or an original IBM PC or any computer containing an 8088 CPU). Put the switch in the AT (or A) position if your computer is an IBM AT (or any computer containing a 286, 386, or 486 CPU). If you don't see such a switch, make sure your keyboard was designed to work with your computer.

If fiddling with the cable and the XT-AT switch doesn't solve your problem, reboot the computer and see what happens . Maybe you'll get lucky.

Maybe some part of the computer is overheating

Here's how to find out:
Turn the computer off. Leave it off for at least an hour, so it cools down

Then turn the computer back on. Try to get to a C prompt.

After the C prompt, type a letter (such as x) and notice whether the x appears on the screen.

If the x appears, don't bother pressing the ENTER key afterwards. Instead, walk away from the computer for two hours - leave the computer turned on - then come back two hours later and try typing another letter (such as y). If the y doesn't appear, you know that the computer "died" sometime after you typed x but before you typed y. Since during that time the computer was just sitting there doing nothing except being turned on and getting warmer, you know the problem was caused by overheating: some part inside the computer is failing as the internal temperature rises. That part could be a RAM chip, BIOS chip, or otherwise.

Since that part isn't tolerant enough of heat, it must be replaced: take the computer in for repair.

That kind of test - where you leave the computer on for several hours to see what happens as the computer warms up - is called letting the computer cook .

During the cooking, if smoke comes out of one of the computer's parts, that part is said to have fried . That same applies to humans: when a programmer's been working hard on a project for many hours and become too exhausted to think straight, the programmer says, "I'm burnt out . My brain is fried ." Common solutions are sleep and pizza ("getting some z's & 'za").

When computers are manufactured, the last step in the assembly line is to leave the computer turned on a long time, to let the computer cook and make sure it still works when hot. A top-notch manufacturer leaves the computer on for 2 days (48 hours) or even 3 days (72 hours), while continually testing the computer to make sure no parts fail. That part of the assembly line is called burning in the computer; many top-notch manufacturers do 72-hour burn in .

Sluggish key

After pressing one of the keys, it doesn't pop back up fast enough. Cause Probably there's dirt under the key. The "dirt" is probably dust or coagulated drinks (such as Coke or coffee).

Cure If many keys are sluggish, don't bother trying to fix them all. Just buy a new keyboard (for about $30).

If just one or two keys are sluggish, here's how to try fixing a sluggish key....

Take a paper clip, partly unravel it so it becomes a hook, then use that hook to pry up the key, until the keycap pops off. Clean the part of the keyboard that was under that keycap: blow away the dust, and wipe away grime (such as coagulated drinks). With the keycap still off, turn on the computer, and try pressing the plunger that was under the keycap. If the plunger is still sluggish, you haven't cleaned it enough. (Don't try too hard: remember that a new keyboard costs just about $30.) When the plunger works fine, turn off the computer, put the keycap back on, and the key should work fine.


While you're typing, each capital letter unexpectedly becomes small, and each small letter becomes capitalized

The SHIFT key or CAPS LOCK key is activated.
The culprit is usually the CAPS LOCK key. Probably you activated it by pressing it accidentally when you meant to press a nearby key instead. The CAPS LOCK key stays activated until you deactivate it by pressing it again.

Press the CAPS LOCK key (again), then try typing some more, to see whether the problem has gone away.

If your keyboard is modern, its top right corner has a CAPS LOCK light. That light glows when the CAPS LOCK key is activated; the light stops glowing when the CAPS LOCK key is deactivated.

If pressing the CAPS LOCK key doesn't solve the problem, try jiggling the left and right SHIFT keys. (Maybe one of those SHIFT keys was accidentally stuck in the down position, because you spilled some soda that got into the keyboard and coagulated and made the SHIFT key too sticky to pop all the way back up.)

If playing with the CAPS LOCK and SHIFT keys doesn't immediately solve your problem, try typing a comma and notice what happens. If the screen shows the symbol "<" instead of a comma, your SHIFT key is activated. (The CAPS LOCK key has no effect on the comma key, since the CAPS LOCK key affects just letters, not punctuation.) If pressing the comma key makes the screen show a comma, your SHIFT key is not activated, and any problems you have must therefore be caused by the CAPS LOCK key instead.

Perhaps the CAPS LOCK key is being activated automatically by the program you're using. (For example, some programs automatically activate the CAPS LOCK key because they want your input to be capitalized.) To find out, exit from the program, reboot the computer, get to a C prompt, and try again to type. If the typing is displayed fine, the "problem" was probably caused by just the program you were using - perhaps on purpose.

In some old Leading Edge Model D computers, the ROM has a defect that occasionally misinterprets the signals from the CAPS LOCK and SHIFT keys. When that happens, just try tapping those keys until the display returns to normal.

Printer problems

If you're having trouble printing, the first thing to do is try this experiment. Turn off the computer and the printer (so you can start fresh). When the computer has become quiet, turn it back on; then turn the printer back on. Get out of Windows and any other software you're in, so you have a C prompt, like this:


Then say "dir>prn" like this:


That's supposed to make the printer print a copy of your directory.

Another experment to try is this:

C:\>echo abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz>prn

That's supposed to make the printer print the alphabet.

If both of those experiments work fine, all your hardware is okay. Any remaining problem is probably just software: for example, you forgot to tell your program or Windows what kind of printer you bought, or you told it incorrectly.

If the experiments do not work fine, you're having a hardware problem: the problem lies in your printer, your computer, or the cable connecting them. Here are further details....

Incomplete characters

Problem Part of each character is missing. For example, for the letter "A" you see just the top part of the "A", or just the bottom part, or everything except the middle.

Cause You're probably using a 9-pin, 24-pin, ink-jet, or daisy-wheel printer, not a laser printer. Some of the pins (or ink jets or daisy petals) are not successfully putting ink onto the paper.

If the bottom part of each character is missing, your printer probably uses a ribbon, and the ribbon is too high, so that the bottom pins miss hitting it. Push the ribbon down lower. Read the instructions that came with your printer and ribbon, to find out the correct way to thread the ribbon through your printer. If you're using a daisy-wheel printer, also check whether the daisy-wheel is inserted correctly: try removing it and then reinserting it.

If some other part of each character is missing, and you're using a 9-pin or 24-pin printer, probably one of the pins is broken or stuck. Look at the print head, where the pins are. See if one of the pins is missing or broken. If so, consider buying a new print head, but beware: since print heads are not available from discount dealers, you must pay full list price for the print head, and pay almost as much for it as discount dealers charge for a whole new printer!

Substitute characters

When you tell the printer to print a word, it prints the correct number of characters but prints different letters of the alphabet instead. For example, instead of printing an "A", the printer prints a "B" or "C".

In the cable going from the computer to the printer, some of the wires aren't working properly. The cable is probably loose or defective.

Turn off the printer. Grab the cable that goes from the computer to the printer, unplug both ends of the cable, then plug both ends in again tightly. Try again to print. If you succeed, the cable was just loose: congratulations, you tightened it! If unplugging and replugging the cable does not solve the problem, then the cable is not just loose: it's probably defective!

To prove that it's defective, borrow a cable from a friend and try again. If your friend's cable works with your computer and printer, your original cable was definitely the culprit.

Once you've convinced yourself that the problem is the cable, go to a store and buy a new cable. It costs about $8 from discount dealers (such as Staples). It's cheaper to buy a new cable than to fix the old one.

If the new cable doesn't solve your problem, try a third cable, since many cables are defective!

If none of the three cables solves your problem, the problem is caused by defective circuitry in your printer or in your computer's parallel-printer port. Get together with a friend and try swapping printers, computers, and cables: make notes about which combinations work and which don't. You'll soon discover which computers, cables, and printers work correctly and which ones are defective.

Extra characters

When using a program (such as a word-processing program), the printer prints a few extra characters at the top of each page.

Those extra characters are special codes that the printer should not print. Those codes are supposed to tell the printer how to print. But your printer is misinterpreting those codes. That's because those codes were intended for a different kind of printer.

Try again to tell your software which printer you bought. To tell Windows which printer you bought, go to the program manager, then double-click the Main icon, then double-click the Control Panel icon, then double-click the Printers icon, then follow the prompts on the screen. To tell a non-Windows program which printer you bought, read the program's manual: look for the part of the manual that explains "printer installation & selection & setup".

Misaligned columns

When printing a table of numbers or words, the columns wiggle: some of the words and numbers are printed slightly too far to the left or right, even though they looked perfectly aligned on the screen.

You're trying to print by using a proportionally spaced font that doesn't match the screen's font.

The simplest way to solve the problem is to switch to a monospaced font , such as Courier or Prestige Elite or Gothic or Lineprinter. Since those fonts are monospaced (each character is the same width as every other character), there are no surprises. To switch fonts while using Windows, use your mouse, drag across all the text whose font you wish to switch, then say which font you wish to switch to.

Unfortunately, monospaced fonts are ugly. If you insist on using proportionally spaced fonts, remember that when moving from column to column, you should press the TAB key, not the SPACE bar . (In proportionally spaced fonts, the SPACE bar creates a printed space that's too narrow: it's narrower than the space created by the typical digit or letter.)

If the TAB key doesn't make the columns your favorite width, customize how TAB key works by adjusting the TAB stops. (In most word-processing programs, you adjust the TAB stops by sliding them on the layout ruler.)

Normally, the computer tries to justify your text: it tries to make the right margin straight by inserting extra spaces between the words. But when you're printing a table, those extra spaces can wreck your column alignment. So when typing a table of numbers, do not tell the computer to justify your text: turn justification OFF .

Touching characters

When printing on paper, some of the characters bump into each other, so that "cat" looks like "cat".

The computer has fed the printer wrong information about how wide to make the characters and how much space to leave between them. That's because you told the computer wrong info about which printer you're going to use.

Tell the computer again which printer you're going to use.

For example, suppose you plan to type a document by using your home computer's word-processing program, then copy the document onto a floppy disk, take the floppy disk to your office, and print a final draft on the office's printer. Since you'll be printing the final draft on the office's printer, tell your home computer that you'll be using the office's printer.

If you're using Windows, here's how: double-click the Main icon, double-click the Control Panel icon, double-click the Printer icon, click the Add button, then double-click the printer's name.


On a sheet of paper, all the printing is too far to the left, or too far to the right, or too far up, or too far down.

You forgot to tell the computer about the paper's size, margins, and feed, or you misfed the paper into the printer.

Most computer software assumes the paper is 11 inches tall and 81/2 inches wide (or slightly wider, if the paper has holes in its sides). The software also assumes that you want 1-inch margins on all four sides (top, bottom, left, and right).

If you told the software you have a dot-matrix printer, the software usually assumes you're using pin-feed paper (which has holes in the side); it's also called continuous-feed paper . For ink-jet and laser printers, the software typically assumes you're using friction-feed paper instead (which has no holes).

If those assumptions are not correct, tell the software. For example, give a "margin", "page size", or "feed" command to your word-processing software.

If you make a mistake about how tall the sheet of paper is, the computer will try to print too many or too few lines per page. The result is creep : on the first page, the printing begins correctly; but on the second page the printing is slightly too low or too high, and on the third page the printing is even more off.

To solve a creep problem, revise slightly what you tell the software about how tall the sheet of paper is. For example, if the printing is fine on the first page but an inch too low on the second page, tell the software that each sheet of paper is an inch shorte r.

On pin-feed paper, the printer can print all the way from the very top of the paper to the very bottom. On friction-feed paper, the printer cannot print at the sheet's very top or very bottom (since the rollers can't grab the paper securely enough while printing there). So on friction-feed paper, the printable area is smaller, as if the paper were shorter. Telling the software wrong info about feed has the same effect as telling the software wrong info about the paper's height: you get creep.

So to fix creep, revise what you tell the software about the paper's height or feed. If the software doesn't let you talk about the paper's feed, kill the creep by revising what you say about the paper's height.

If you're using a dot-matrix printer that can handle both kinds of paper (pin-feed and friction-feed), you'll solve most creep problems by choosing pin-feed paper.

If all printing is too far to the left (or right), adjust what you tell the software about the left and right margins; or if you're using pin-feed paper in a dot-matrix printer with movable tractors, slide the tractors to the left or right (after loosening them by flipping their levers). For example, if the printing is an inch too far to the right, slide the tractors an inch toward the right.

Insufficient memory

Here's the newest nuisance ever invented!

When you try to install or run a new program (such as a game), the computer says "Insufficient memory", even though you bought several megabytes of RAM.

Either the program requires even more megabytes of RAM than you bought, or too much of your RAM is being consumed by other purposes.

First, find out how much RAM the program requires. If you're lucky, the "Insufficient memory" message will include a comment about how much RAM you need. For further details about how much RAM you need, read the program's "System Requirements" notice, which appears on the side or back of the box that the program came in. For even more details about how much RAM you need, read the beginning of the program's instruction manual: just before it explains how to install the program, it explains the detailed "System Requirements".

Notice not just how much RAM the program requires but also what kind of RAM. How much conventional RAM does it require? How much extended (XMS) RAM? How much expanded (EMM) RAM?

To find out how much RAM is in your computer at the moment, give the "mem" command, like this:

That command tells you how much conventional, extended, and expanded RAM you have, and how much of each type is still available.

That command works just in DOS 4, 5, 6, and beyond. If you're stuck with an older DOS, say "chkdsk" instead of "mem". Unfortunately, "chkdsk" says just how much conventional RAM you have; it doesn't say how much extended or expanded RAM you have.

In most computers, the total amount of conventional RAM is 640K (where a K is 1024 bytes). If you typed CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT as I recommended on pages 132-137 and page 588, about 619K of that conventional RAM will be free .

If much less than 619K of your computer's conventional RAM is free, increase the conventional RAM by making your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files resemble mine. Here are the fundamental techniques my CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files use, to increase the amount of conventional RAM:

In CONFIG.SYS, usually say "devicehigh=" instead of "device=".
In AUTOEXEC.BAT, usually say "Lh c:" instead of "c:".
In AUTOEXEC.BAT, delete any line mentioning SMARTDRV.EXE.
In CONFIG.SYS, say "buffers=40".
In CONFIG.SYS, say "dos=high,umb".
In CONFIG.SYS, mention HIMEM.SYS and EMM386.EXE.
In CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT, delete any lines you don't need.

The amount of expanded RAM is 0, unless your CONFIG.SYS file contains a line mentioning "emm386.exe", and that line has the word "ram" in it (instead of "noems").

To use extended RAM, your CONFIG.SYS file must contain a line mentioning "himem.sys". You'll have more extended RAM available if you delete any line mentioning SMARTDRV.EXE and make sure your "emm386" line says "noems" instead of "ram". If you're still short of RAM, buy more RAM chips! To run modern Windows software well, get at least 8 megabytes of RAM altogether.

Windows 3.1 problems

The main reason why Windows 3.1 (or 3.11) screws up is insufficient conventional RAM.
Windows needs at least 565K of conventional RAM free, in order to run well. Unfortunately, companies such as Gateway and Dell ship computers having less than 565K of conventional RAM free. To find out how much conventional RAM you have free, say "mem".

To increase the amount of conventional free RAM, follow my suggestions on the previous page. You should also get rid of screen savers.

Windows wants 8M of RAM altogether. If your computer's total RAM is much less than 8M (for example, if you bought just 4M), get rid of the AUTOEXEC.BAT line that mentions SMARTDRV.EXE and change the number of buffers in CONFIG.SYS to 40. Exception: if you compressed your hard drive, you must keep SMARTDRV.EXE, in order to prevent your hard drive from seeming too slow.

Another source of Windows headaches is a full hard drive.

Make sure your hard drive has at least 10M free. To check that, say "chkdsk" and look at the number of "bytes available on disk". If you have less than 10M free, erase the files you don't use.

Many other headaches can occur. Though Windows was supposed to make computers easier, it's had exactly the opposite effect. Much of my life is spent stuck on the phone answering questions about why Windows doesn't work properly.

Windows 95 is slightly better.


A virus is a program written specifically for mischief. People write viruses for the same reasons kids pull fire alarms and run: to cause lots of trouble without getting caught. People who write viruses are childish.

Types of viruses

Viruses fall into three categories: the Trojan horse, the bomb, and the worm:
Trojan horses (also called Trojans) are destructive programs disguised as useful ones.

Bombs are programs that wait for a specific date or event to activate them.

Worms are programs that duplicate themselves.

Many viruses fit into more than one of these categories. For example, a bomb virus might duplicate itself, so that virus is both a bomb and a worm.

Viruses are also identified by where they hide:
Boot-sector viruses hide in the boot sector of a floppy or hard disk. They're loaded into memory when a computer boots from a drive containing an infected disk (even a non-bootable one!).

File viruses (also called parasitic viruses) attach themselves to other programs and load when the program is used.

Some viruses hide in both places - they're both file and boot-sector viruses. Viruses that hide in both places are called multipartite viruses.

Macro viruses hide in Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Macro viruses use the macro languages of those programs to function.

How viruses arose

Viruses began to appear in the mid-1980's. At first, most people didn't even believe they existed. In an interview, Peter Norton once called viruses an "urban legend", like the crocodiles in the sewers of New York. (Peter later wrote a program called Norton Anti-Virus. Boy, was his face red!)

By the early 1990's, several companies had released anti-virus software. People were starting to take viruses seriously. Unfortunately, programmers writing viruses started to take anti-virus software seriously too. Stealth viruses began to appear.

Stealth viruses make special efforts to hide themselves from anti-virus software. For example, stealth viruses trick anti-virus software into inspecting a clean copy of a file instead of letting it read the actual (infected) file.

Some viruses are even trickier: they actually change their own appearance each time they infect a file. That way, no two copies of that virus look alike to anti-virus software. Viruses that change their appearances are called polymorphic viruses.

The good news is that the companies writing anti-virus software have been working just as hard as the folks writing the viruses. Most anti-virus companies release updates quarterly or even monthly - sometimes for free.

Who gets viruses

The most common place to find viruses is at schools. That's partly because most viruses were invented at schools (by bright, mischievous students) but mainly because many students share the school's computers. If one student has an infected floppy disk (purposely or accidentally) and puts it into one of the school's computers, that computer's hard disk will probably get infected. Then it will infect all the other students who use that computer. As disks are passed from that computer to the school's other computers, the rest of the school's computers become infected.

Then the school's students, unaware of the infection, take the disks home with them and infect their families' home computers. Then their parents bring infected disks to their offices (so they can transfer work between home and office) and infect their companies. Then the company employees take infected disks home and infect their home computers, which infect any disks used by the kids, who, unaware of the infection, then take infected disks to school and start the cycle all over again.

Anybody who shares programs with other people can get a virus. Most programs are copyrighted and illegal to share. People who share programs illegally are called pirates. Pirates spread viruses. For example, many kids spread viruses when they try to share their games with their friends.

Another source of viruses is computer stores, in their computer-repair departments. While trying to analyze and fix broken computers, the repair staff often shoves diagnostic disks into the computers, to find out what's wrong. If one of the broken computers has a virus, the diagnostic disks accidentally get viruses from the broken computers and then pass the viruses on to other computers. So if you bring your computer to a store for repairs, don't be surprised if your computer gets fixed but also gets a virus.

Occasionally, a major software company will screw up, accidentally get infected by a virus, and unknowingly distribute it to all folks buying the software. Even companies as big as Microsoft have accidentally distributed viruses.

America Online tries to scan its own files to make sure they don't contain viruses. Some Internet sites might have viruses, which you could contract if you copy software from those sites. America Online can't protect you from any viruses that flow through it from the Internet to you.


If you don't share programs with other folks, you probably won't get a virus. MS-DOS comes with an anti-virus program called "msav" (which stands for MicroSoft Anti-Virus), but it's rather useless, since most of the common viruses were invented after it was and are smarter than it.

The best anti-virus program you can buy is Dr. Solomon's Anti-Virus, which costs just $50. Get it from any mail-order dealer. The most convenient mail-order dealer is PC Connection (at 800-800-0003), which charges just $5 for overnight shipping. (You can order late at night and still receive it in the morning!)

Its main competitor is Norton Anti-Virus, which you can buy at most computer stores for about $70.

If you have Windows 95, make sure you buy anti-virus software that's designed for Windows 95. Older anti-virus software thinks Windows 95 is one big virus and tries to erase all of Windows 95.

Unfortunately, the use of virus-scanning software can make your computer run slower, since virus-scanning can take a long time.

Common boot-sector viruses

Here are common boot-sector viruses. Each of them hides in (infects) the hard disk's master boot record (MBR) and each floppy disk's boot sector. Before hiding in such a location, the typical virus makes room for itself by moving data from that location to a "second place" on the disk. Unfortunately, whatever data had been in the "second place" gets overwritten and cannot be recovered.

The typical virus makes the computer eventually hang (stop reacting to your keystrokes and mouse strokes).

I'll start with the viruses that are easiest to understand and progress to the ones that are trickiest.

Boot-437 This virus is harmless: it doesn't do anything except replicate itself.

New York Boot (NYB)
This virus's only function is to spread itself. But it spreads itself rapidly and often. It's also called B1.

This virus randomly corrupts data being written to disk. The chance of a particular write being corrupted is just 1 out of 1024, so the corruption occurs just occasionally and to just a few bytes at a time. You typically don't notice the problem until several weeks have gone by and the infection has spread to many files and your backups, too! Then it's too late to recover your data! Yes, Ripper has the characteristic of a successful virus: its effects are so subtle that you don't notice it until you've infected your hard disk, your backups, and your friends! Then ya wanna die!

It's also called Jack Ripper, because it contains this message which is never displayed:

 "(c)1992 Jack Ripper".
It contains another undisplayed message:
 "FUCK 'EM UP !"

This virus changes your system's CMOS settings, as follows:
Your hard drive becomes "not installed".
Your 1.44M floppy drive becomes "1.2M".
A 1.2M floppy drive becomes "not installed".
A 360K floppy drive becomes "720K", and vice-versa.

To evade detection and give itself time to spread to other computers, it waits a while before doing that damage: it waits until you've accessed the floppy drive many times; on the average, it waits for 256 accesses.

It's spread just when someone tries to boot the system from an infected floppy disk. It reduces your total conventional RAM memory by 2K, so you have 638K instead of 640K.

After it's damaged your CMOS settings, here's how to recover: run your computer's CMOS setup program, which lets you reset the CMOS to the correct settings.

This virus resembles Anti-CMOS A; but instead of making changes to the system's CMOS, it generates sounds from the computer's built-in speaker.

This virus monitors disk activity and waits for you to run a certain important .EXE program. (Virus researchers haven't yet discovered which .EXE program is involved.) When you run that important .EXE program (so the program's in your RAM), the virus corrupts the copy that's in the RAM (but not the copy that's on disk). While you run that corrupted copy, errors occur, and the computer usually hangs.

It's also called New Bug, CMOS4, and D3.

This virus is supposed to just play a harmless prank: on the 18th day of each month, the computer beeps whenever a key is pressed. But this virus is badly written and accidentally causes problems. For example, if your hard disk ever becomes full, the virus makes the hard disk become unbootable. And if the computer ever fails to read from a disk, the virus can cause the system to hang.

It reduces your total conventional RAM memory by 2K, so you have 638K instead of 640K. The virus's second sector contains this message, which never gets displayed:

"The FORM-Virus send greetings to everyone who's reading this text. 
FORM doesn't destroy data! 
Don't panic! Fuckings go to Corinne."

Parity Boot
Every hour, this virus checks whether it's infected a floppy disk. If it hasn't infected a disk in the last hour, it says

and hangs the computer.

It stays in RAM even if you press Ctrl with Alt with Del: to unload the virus from RAM, you must turn off the computer's power or press the Reset button.

It's also called Generic-1.

Of all the viruses common today, this is the oldest, invented back in 1987 by a student at the University of Wellington, New Zealand. If you boot from an infected floppy disk or hard disk, there's a 1-in-8 chance your computer will beep and display this message:

 "Your PC is now Stoned".

It was intended to be harmless, but it assumes your floppy disk is 360K and accidentally erases important parts of the directory on higher-capacity floppy disks (such as 1.44M disks). It also makes your computer run slower - as if your computer were stoned.

It doesn't infect files and can't infect other computers over a network. It reduces your total conventional RAM memory by 4K, so you have 636K instead of 640K. It also contains this message, which doesn't get displayed:

"Legalise Marijuana"
. This virus is also called Marijuana, Hemp, and New Zealand. Many other virus writers have created imitations & variants, called strains. Some of those strains reduce your total conventional RAM memory by 1K instead of 4K.

Inspired by the Stoned virus (and sometimes called Stoned Michelangelo), this virus sits quietly on your hard disk until Michelangelo's birthday, March 6th. Each year, on March 6th, the virus tries to destroy all data on your hard drive, by writing garbage (random meaningless bytes) everywhere. Since this virus was invented before big hard drives became popular, it assumes your hard drive is small and therefore writes the garbage onto just the first 17 sectors of each of the first 256 tracks of each of the first 2 platters, both sides. The overwritten data cannot be recovered.

It reduces your total conventional RAM memory by 1K, so you have 639K instead of 640K.

The simplest way to avoid damage from this virus is to adopt this trick: on March 5th, before you turn off the computer, change the computer's date to March 7th, thereby skipping March 6th.

Inspired by the Stoned virus (and sometimes called Stoned Empire Monkey ), this virus encrypts the hard drive's partition table, so the hard drive is accessible just while the virus is in memory. If you boot the system from a clean (uninfected) floppy disk, the hard drive is unusable. This virus is tough to remove successfully, since removing the virus will also remove your ability to access the data.

It reduces your total conventional RAM by 1K, so you have 639K instead of 640K.

Other common viruses

The following viruses infect locations other than boot sectors.

Yankee Doodle
Every day at 5 PM, this virus plays part of the song Yankee Doodle on the computer's built-in speaker.

It infects .COM and .EXE files. It's also called Old Yankee and TP44VIR.

Die Hard
This virus infects .COM & .EXE files and makes them become exactly 3000 or 4000 bytes bigger.

The virus also overwrites .ASM files (programs written in assembler) with a short program. When you try to compile the .ASM program, the computer hangs.

It's also called DH2.

One Half
This virus slowly encrypts the hard drive. Each time you turn on the computer, the virus encrypts two more cylinders (starting with the innermost 2 tracks and working toward the outer tracks). The encrypting is done by using a random code. You can use the encrypted cylinders as long as the virus remains in memory. When about half of the hard drive's cylinders are encrypted, the computer says:

Dis is one half
Press any key to continue......
This virus is tough to remove successfully, since removing the virus will also remove your ability to access the data.

It infects the hard disk's MBR, each floppy disk's boot sector, and .EXE and .COM files. It scans the names of files for text relating to anti-virus programs (such as MSAV, NOD, SCAN, CLEAN, and FINDVIRU): it won't infect anti-virus programs! It's difficult to detect, since it's polymorphic and uses stealth. It's also called Dis and Free Love.

tThis virus infects Microsoft Word documents and templates. When you load an infected document for the first time, you see a dialog box that says "1", with an OK button. Once you click OK, the virus takes over. It forces all documents to be saved as templates, which in turn affect new documents.

It consists of 5 macros: AAZAO, AAZFS, AutoOpen, FileSaveAs, and PayLoad. You can see those macros in an infected Word document by choosing "Macro" from the Tools menu.

It was invented in 1995. It was the first virus ever invented that infects documents instead of programs or boot sectors. It was also the first virus ever invented that can infect both kinds of computers: IBM and Mac!

Old anti-virus programs can't detect it. It's spreading fast. It's become more prevalent than any other virus. Microsoft Word's newest version (Word 97) protects itself again the virus, but its predecessor (Word 7) is vulnerable unless you buy a new anti-virus program that includes anti-Concept.

Inspired by the Concept virus, this virus consists of a macro called AutoOpen
that forces Microsoft Word documents to be saved as templates. Whenever you open a document, the virus also rearranges up to 3 words and inserts the word "Wazzu" at random.

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